AFT Bar objects to sudden transfer of Justice Dharam Chand Chaudhary of Chandigarh Bench; writes to CJI alleging interference by MoD

The Bar body claimed that Justice Chaudhary's transfer to Kolkata was because he refused to buckle under pressure of the Ministry of Defence and passed orders against senior government officials.
Armed Forces Tribunal, Principal Bench
Armed Forces Tribunal, Principal Bench

The Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) Chandigarh Bench Bar Association has written to Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud taking strong objection to AFT chairperson's decision to transfer judicial member Justice Dharam Chand Chaudhary from Chandigarh to Kolkata bench of AFT.

In a strongly worded letter sent to the CJI on Monday, the AFT Bar alleged that Justice Chaudhary's transfer was a consequence of the strict orders passed by him against senior government officials of the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

"The chairperson of AFT, whose extension is due in Nov 2023, has suddenly transferred the Judicial Member-cum-Head of Department (HOD) of Chandigarh bench, former acting Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh High Court Justice Dharam Chand Chaudhary, because he refused to buckle under pressure of the MoD and presumably the chairperson, who did not want uncomfortable orders to be passed against the senior functionaries of MoD," the letter claimed.

It said that the transfer is a direct assault on the independence of judiciary and requested the CJI to quash the same.

The letter also explained the chronological sequence of events leading up to the transfer of Justice Chaudhary.

As per the same, Justice Chaudhary had taken a grim view of non-implementation of AFT's orders, and after repeated opportunities and non-adherence to submissions made on affidavit, issued bailable warrants against senior MoD officials.

The MoD officials then approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court against the same but the High Court on July 7, 2023 upheld the order of Justice Chaudhary and also directed the senior MoD officials to file compliance report before the Chandigarh bench of the AFT.

As per the letter, the MoD officials then tried to overreach the judicial system and filed an application before the chairperson of AFT for transfer of contempt cases from the Chandigarh bench to the chairperson's bench at AFT in Delhi (the principal bench).

Similarly, certain other benches in Delhi (other than the chairperson's bench) also took a grim view of non-implementation of orders.

The chairperson of the tribunal then withdrew the execution applications from other benches of the principal bench and directed that only his bench shall hear executions.

As regards the issue at Chandigarh bench, the chairperson without issuing notice and on the first date of hearing, transferred the contempt cases from Chandigarh bench to his own bench on September 15 despite the matter having been already adjudicated by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

Eventually, on September 25, the chairperson transferred Justice Dharam Chand Chaudhary from Chandigarh bench to Kolkata bench "for administrative reasons in public interest."

"The chairperson gives less than 12 hours to Justice Chaudhary to relinquish charge," the letter claimed.

The message sent by such a decision is that if one passes orders against senior government functionaries for strict compliance with judgments, then such transfer will be the result and hence all members should refrain from passing strict orders against senior MoD officials, the bar body said.

"It is truly heartbreaking that after steps were taken to get the orders of the AFT executed which were lying unimplemented since last so many years, the Chairperson has first transferred the contempt proceedings from Chandigarh Bench to himself and then also transferred the Judicial Member who was ensuring the compliance and adherence to the rule of law thereby saving judicial dignity. Not only that, the Chairperson has also transferred the execution proceedings pending in the other Benches of the Principal Bench to his own Bench," the letter said.

This incident is another example of conflict of interest as regards the AFT, since the tribunal falls under the administrative control of MoD which provides all facilities, salaries, staff, and infrastructure to the tribunal and the chairperson, the bar body said.

The letter also stated that continued functioning of the AFT under MoD amount to contempt of the judgments of the Supreme Court in R Gandhi case and Madras Bar Association case.

"In view of the above, you are most humbly requested to save the dignity of the institution, the majesty of law and judicial independence, and take strict action in the matter by treating this as a letter petition by quashing the said transfer which is a colourable exercise of power and by removing the AFT immediately from the control of the MoD so that the confidence of litigants and the legal fraternity is not threatened," the letter prayed.

The AFT Bar Association had written to the CJI earlier too alleging direct interference by the Defence Secretary and other officers of the MoD in the functioning of the AFT.

In that communication, the bar body had claimed that the Defence Secretary had asked AFT's principal bench prepare a report on recent decisions by the AFT's Chandigarh bench on pay or pension matters and its analysis.

Such a letter by MoD to AFT amounted to interference with the administration of justice by the AFT, the bar body had claimed in its earlier letter to the CJI.

[Read Letter]

AFT Bar Association Letter to CJI.pdf
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