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The Supreme Court today issued notice to the central government in a writ petition filed by advocate and founder President of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) Bar Association Navdeep Singh, seeking striking down of the recently promulgated rules for Tribunals.
The matter came up for hearing today before a Bench of Chief Justice JS Khehar and Justices Dipak Misra and DY Chandrachud.
The petition, citing the example of the AFT, states that the tribunal has been placed under the complete hold of the Ministry of Defence, which is the first opposite party in every litigation before the AFT. It further adds that the Defence Secretary has been made a part of the selection and reappointment committee for appointing members of the tribunal, thereby making the primary litigant select its own adjudicators.
It also states that the Centre has notified the Rules despite orders of the Punjab & Haryana High Court to the contrary, on which there was no stay by the Supreme Court. The petition further challenges the clause decreasing the tenure of members and lowering their status and a new provision allowing them to take up government employment after retirement from the tribunal, which was prohibited till now.
More importantly, the petition states that while promulgating the Rules, the officers concerned have acted diametrically opposite to the views of the political executive since even the Prime Minister and the Law Minister had made statements favouring reform and independence of tribunals. The petition states that the real reason behind tribunalisation was “not to reduce pendency, but to create post-retirement havens and tacitly and slowly encroach upon the traditional jurisdiction of real Courts, including issues of personal, individual and civil rights”.
Calling out the myth of reduction of pendency, the petition points out an example of defence related cases, which have increased from 9000 to 16000 after creation of the AFT.
Moreover, work in tribunals comes to a complete halt due to non-appointment of members. The petition states that the stress upon ‘expertise’ in tribunals is overemphasized since “judicial opinion is through assistance from both sides of the dispute through counsel or through expert opinions, and for the same, the expert need not sit as an adjudicator which can result in subjectivity and over-familiarity rather than a dispassionate and detached approach”.
It has also sought a roadmap for reforming tribunals and returning certain jurisdictions back to the regular courts. The petition has also questioned why the regular judiciary was not being strengthened rather than excessive tribunalisation. The Petition has averred that in case a lack of expertise is perceived, then specialized courts such as Commercial Courts should be incepted within the regular judiciary. Alternatively, a system of more stable rosters must be effectuated in Courts, in line with the expertise and aptitude of judges.
The Petition has also sought judicial review over tribunal decisions in Division Benches of High Courts as held by a Constitution Bench in L Chandrakumar’s case, rather than the inaccessible and unaffordable appeals provided from some tribunals directly to the Supreme Court.