Veterans Corners

Creating lesser citizens.

lawyers at its disposal to file appeals in the SC at the taxpayer’s expense.

A multi-tiered approach to judicial redress is the hallmark of every democracy and had the “elimination” of layers been a profound need, then we would have had a system of appeals from the lowest court of junior division civil judge directly to the SC. Central government employees and retirees aggrieved by orders of the Central Administrative Tribunal have a right to judicial review before the high court and then the SC, whereas the system has called for snatching similar rights from defence employees, ex-servicemen and even their family members.

The writ jurisdiction of our high courts is designed to keep authorities and tribunals within the bounds and confines of law and to keep a check on their recklessness and rashness. With all due respect to the AFT and its good work, it functions under the same defence ministry against which it is supposed to pass orders, the defence secretary against whom decisions are to be rendered sits on the selection (and reappointment) panel of AFT members and also in the investigation committee to probe complaints, if any, received against them. Hence, a vested right of judicial review by jurisdictional high courts assumes utmost importance.

The AFT does not even possess the usual trappings of a court, including powers of civil contempt or a procedure to get its orders implemented. So it came as no surprise that, just two days after the ruling, the SC, in another case, reiterated the known position that tribunals are inferior to high courts and that judicial review by high courts is part of the basic structure of the Constitution, which cannot be taken away even by a constitutional amendment.

This decision, based on the plea of the defence ministry, has rendered litigants remediless and without any vested right of judicial redress — the only such instance in constitutional history. Till the issue is revisited by a larger bench of the SC or the lynchpin sections repealed, litigants shall continue to languish in lower confines compared to the rights guaranteed to other citizens, a situation neither warranted nor envisaged by the framers of the blueprint for our democracy — the Constitution of India.

The writer is a high court lawyer and founder president of the AFT Bar Association. He is also a member of the International Society for Military Law and the Law of War at Brussels

First Published on: April 7, 201512:02 am
The Supreme Court declared that high courts would not entertain challenges to the orders of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT).