The Punjab and Haryana high court on Wednesday issued a notice to the union ministry of defence (MoD) over the 'paralysis' of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) benches due to non-appointment of judges by the ministry.
Major Navdeep Singh, AFT Bar founding president, in a public interest litigation (PIL), highlighted the 'excessive' control of the MoD over appointments, infrastructure, rule-making and functioning of the AFT, even as it was this ministry against which the tribunal had to pass all orders. The petition said having the MoD as the parent ministry for the AFT was against the spirit of the law laid down by the Supreme Court.
The petition stated that of the 15 courts in the country, only three were functioning because of non-appointment of judicial members. "The Chandigarh bench is also faced with a paralysis of sorts, with only one court functioning out of three, and that too partially since the court also has to sit in the circuit bench at Shimla. The Chandigarh Bench, which covers Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Chandigarh, and has the maximum pendency, is hence currently at the mercy of the MoD, which has taken no effective steps of filling vacancies of judicial members, though it is learnt that the selection process had been initiated more than a year back."
The petition added that the MoD had recently informed a parliamentary standing committee incorrectly that only 303 decisions of the AFT had not been implemented, whereas 3,500 to 4,500 decisions remained unimplemented.
"Though the tribunal exercises criminal appellate functions, there is no police presence to undertake such functions as provided for under the AFT Act or under the CrPC; the security is handled by private, unarmed security guards outsourced from a private security agency," the petition said.
It prayed for directions for placing the AFT benches under the union ministry of law and justice as there was no provision in the AFT Act for the MoD to take over the rule-making powers, authority, functioning, appointments, infrastructure, manpower or administrative support of the tribunal. It also asked for the selection of judges in a time-bound manner, particularly for the Chandigarh bench of the AFT, which covers the largest area and has the maximum load of cases.