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The Supreme Court last month urged the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) to tread lightly after it had termed a decision of the Allahabad High Court as “per incuriam”.
The issue stems from an application filed before the Tribunal by Lt. Colonel Harshwardhan Singh, who was aggrieved by adverse remarks made against him in his Annual Confidential Reports (ACRs) for two consecutive years.
Singh claimed that he and his wife were invited to the office of his commanding officer, who allegedly made remarks “tinged with derogatory and immoral innuendos” towards his wife. Despite complaining to his superiors about the incident, Singh claims that no action was taken against the commanding officer, who subsequently made the remarks in his ACRs.
In September 2015, the AFT had passed an interim order directing the Centre and the Chief of Army Staff to conduct an inquiry into the incident. However, the respondents preferred a writ petition at the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court challenging the order. The High Court quashed the AFT’s interim order on the grounds that it did not have jurisdiction to direct an inquiry suo motu, in the absence of an application or prayer.
Then, in its final order dated July 21 of last year, the AFT held that it was well within its jurisdiction to direct an inquiry suo motu. In fact, the bench of Justice DP Singh and Air Marshall Anil Chopra even went so far as to say that the High Court’s order was passed in “ignorance of statutory provisions”.
“…the order passed by learned Single Judge (supra) holding that Tribunal has no power to issue order for report from Chief of the Army with regard to factual matrix on its own, seems to be one militating against section 30 of the C.P.C and hence, per in curium (sic) to statutory provisions.”
The bench also directed that the adverse remarks made in the applicant’s otherwise spotless ACRs be expunged from the record and that an inquiry committee be set up by the Chief of Army Staff.
Which is when the Centre decided to appeal this order before the Supreme Court.
Appearing for the Centre, ASG Atmaram Nadkarni argued that the AFT had exceeded its jurisdiction by making those remarks against the High Court’s decision and directing the constitution of the inquiry committee. Senior Advocate Guru Krishna Kumar appeared for Singh.
A Bench of Justices Dipak Misra and R Banumathi, while upholding the AFT’s order as regards the ACR reports of the applicant, also urged the Tribunal to exercise caution.
“We have no hesitation to say that the Tribunal will be well advised to maintain restraint while expressing its opinion on those issues.
In view of the aforesaid, all the comments, observations and opinions expressed on the judgment of the High Court and the constitution of the Committee are expunged.”
Read the Supreme Court order:
Read the AFT’s order: