The Supreme Court on Tuesday listed the petitions challenging the control of parent administrative ministries over tribunals for final hearing.
The petitions deal with essentially the control of the ministries of corporate affairs, defence, and finance over Company Law Tribunal, Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT), and Debt Recovery Tribunal, respectively.
On a petition by high court lawyer major Navdeep Singh, the Punjab and Haryana high court has directed already that control of the AFT be with the law ministry rather than the defence ministry. The central government had challenged the verdict in the Supreme Court.
On the special leave petition (SLP) filed regarding the AFT, major Navdeep in his reply has pointed out the acute conflict of interest, whereby the AFT is working under the thumb of the very ministry that is the first opposite party in all litigation. The reply has further questioned the reason behind the enthusiasm of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in wielding control over the AFT, stating that ministries want executive control over judicial functioning tacitly in an insidious manner.
A law minister statement in Parliament in 2001 endorsing the control of law ministry over tribunals based on an earlier Supreme Court decision was also placed on record along with the statements by senior officers of the MoD against the AFT. It has been averred that "the shockingly open defiance of judicial authority and an open attack on the functioning of some benches of the AFT is daring and contemptuous to say the least".
Can't go against financing ministry
The reply pointed out that members of the AFT have to seek administrative support, facilities and finances from the MoD, which affects the independence of judicial functioning and the confidence of litigants directly. Stating that more than 5,000 decisions of tribunal have not been implemented for a lack of contempt or execution powers, the reply adds that the AFT had not taken any strict coercive action against defaulting officers of the MoD since beginning, since they administered the AFT and provided it with facilities and infrastructure.
The reply has also placed on record documents that show that a former defence minister had "approved" appointments on the AFT even after a committee led by an apex-court judge had selected the the members. It also mentions that the defence secretary, against whom all orders of the AFT are to be passed, sits in selection of members, including former high court judges; and also sits on the committee for their reappointment.
System 'not democratic'
The reply states that the Indian system of not allowing independence to tribunals was unique and not in vogue in any democracy. Even the Pakistan apex court has directed the freeing of tribunals from the control of the executive; since the controlling arrangement is also against the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly, it has been submitted.