Forces Tribunal set to get teeth

Forces Tribunal set to get teeth

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Amendment Bill to arm it with powers to get orders implemented

Source:  Tribune India

About a decade after the Armed Forces Tribunal Act, 2007, was passed by Parliament, the judicial body is finally set to be armed with powers to get its judgments and orders implemented.

The Armed Forces Tribunal (Amendment) Bill is listed for consideration and passage before Parliament in the Budget Session, sources said.  Besides providing powers of civil contempt, it enhances the retirement age of AFT members and abrogates the system of re-appointment.

This gives some hope to defence litigants in whose favour decisions have been passed by the AFT, but the orders were not being implemented by the defence services or the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Though the AFT possesses powers of criminal contempt — empowering it to take action against any misbehaviour by an individual — it was not vested with civil contempt powers due to which its orders were not implemented.

The amendment, initiated in 2012, was referred to a Parliamentary Committee, where it was opposed by the Army.

The amendment Bill also proposes to enhance the retirement age of the AFT chairperson and judicial members to 67 years from 65. The period of appointment has also been enhanced to five years from four.

Advocate Maj Navdeep Singh — on whose PIL the Punjab and Haryana High Court had earlier directed the Tribunal to take coercive action against authorities for non-compliance of its decisions — said if enacted, the Bill would provide security of tenure and more stability to members since officers against whom AFT orders are to be passed form part of the re-appointment selection committee.

The Chandigarh Bench of AFT has been without any judicial member since the retirement of Justice Surinder Singh Thakur in September last year, bringing all judicial work to a standstill.

Various Judicial tribunals being merged to lower their total count

Process set rolling to bring them under Law Ministry

Following repeated directions from the Supreme Court and high courts, the Centre has initiated the process of placing all judicial tribunals under the nodal control of the Ministry of Law and Justice.

The number of tribunals, which provide judicial redressal to service-related grievances of employees, is also being reduced from 36 to 18 by merging those having similar or overlapping mandates, sources said. Except for the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, all tribunals function under administrative control of the ministry against which they hear cases.

Sources said the recommendations of the inter-ministerial group on reforms of tribunals were submitted to the government about a month ago and the law ministry would be implementing them in three phases over nine months. This also includes the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT), the functioning of which has recently come under scrutiny of the apex court. In the case of Navdeep Singh versus Union of India, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had ruled that the AFT be taken out of the purview of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and placed under the law ministry as per SC directions. It was averred that all orders by the AFT were to be passed against the MoD through its Secretary and the same ministry should not have any control over the functioning, infrastructure, facilities and selections of the AFT and the Defence Secretary could also not be a member of the committee for appointing or reappointing adjudicating members of the AFT since all orders of the AFT were meant to be passed against him. The MoD had challenged the verdict in the SC where it is currently pending.

The Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court had in the case of L Chandra Kumar versus Union of India in 1997, directed the government to consider granting nodal control of tribunals to the law ministry. The SC had also deprecated direct appeals from tribunals to the SC in the same case and had ordered that tribunal decisions must be challenged in the high courts.

In 2010, in a PIL filed by the Madras Bar Association, yet another Constitution Bench had held that tribunals shall not be placed under ministries against which they have to pass orders and must be under the Law Ministry.  In 2015, a parliamentary standing committee had recommended placing of all tribunals under a “National Tribunals Commission”. The SC, in yet another order in 2016, had directed the law commission to look into the efficacy of the concept of tribunals.