With the retirement of justice Prakash Krishna on August 12, only one bench is left at Chandigarh’s Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) though around 7,200 cases are pending.
As of now justice Surinder Singh Thakur is holding the fort. Out of 7,200 cases, about 3,200 cases are fresh ones while the rest are related to execution and miscellaneous cases.
Most of the cases are connected with pension and are related to disability, rounding of disability percentage, service pension, family pension, invalid pension, court martial, promotion, maintenance allowance, reinstatement in service, annual confidential reports (ACRs), and discharge.
AFT officials said as of now 20-25 cases are being filed every day. As of now justice Thakur is hearing 70-90 cases per day and soon it would reach around 150 per day. He is carrying the workload of three benches alone.
Chandigarh bench, which has jurisdiction over Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Chandigarh and Haryana, has been allotted three benches owing to highest pendency in the country. But only two benches were in operation for over two years. Justice Thakur is also retiring on September 23 and if no judicial member appointment is made the AFT here would go defunct. There is a vacancy of administrative member also.
“Non -availability of judicial members is not only leading to more pendency and lack of quick dispensation of justice but has also led to excessive burden on the lone judicial member who is appreciably carrying on with thrice the workload despite all odds,” said Maj Navdeep Singh, advocate at Punjab and Haryana High Court, who was also a part of panel of experts formed to suggest measures to reduce litigation on defence matters.
“The MoD remains a compulsive litigant. Judgements are delivered and upheld by the apex court but not implemented. The MoD has defeated the purpose of AFTs. Now, judges are not being appointed too. If the ministry couldn’t run the AFTs, high courts should be given powers to decide the cases,” said Bhim Sen Sehgal, chairman of All India Ex-servicemen Association.
“It is a sorry state of affairs despite so much pendency no judicial member is appointed. Now, two courts are vacant and whole burden has come on justice Thakur. The judgments will be delayed and poor widows and soldiers would suffer,” said Rajesh Sehgal, president of AFT Bar Association.
NON-IMPLEMENTATION OF ORDERS LEADING TO PENDENCY
The panel of experts which gave the report on how litigation around defence matters could be reduced in 2015 pointed out how AFT orders are not implemented and soldiers have to file execution petitions. It said, “Non-implementation of orders in time leads to not only frustration amongst litigants and a bad name to the organisation but also in massive outgo of taxpayers’ money and burden on the exchequer by way of costs, interests and avoidable payments to government counsel for multiple dates of hearings.
It also burdens the dockets of the courts and increases the figures of pendency of litigation in the country.
It is again a cause of concern that there is an unwritten policy (and even reproduced in writing on certain files) that decisions are not to be implemented unless a contempt/ execution application is filed by a litigant. Besides being unethical, this is clearly contemptuous.”