In the face of stiff resistance from the armed forces, the Parliamentary Committee on Defence has recommended that the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) be given powers of civil contempt as many of its orders are not being implemented despite its having the status of a High Court.
In another step, aimed at making the ATF a strong and independent institution, and to avoid conflict of interest, the panel has recommended that the administrative control of the tribunal should be with the Ministry of Law and Justice Ministry rather than the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
The 18th committee, in its report submitted this month, gave its comments on the Armed Forces Tribunal (Amendment) Bill 2012, introduced in the Rajya Sabha last year.
Taking into view the opposition by the defence forces, the committee has recommended civil contempt powers to the AFT in cases involving retired defence personnel but refrained from giving such powers with regard to serving personnel so as to avoid disturbing the high disciplinary standards of the forces. The forces apprehend that civil contempt would impinge on operational requirements.
Though the MoD was in favour of conferring these powers, the committee noted that within the Ministry, the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare raised objections on the grounds that it might become difficult to implement some orders of the tribunal which are against the settled policy of the government. The aggrieved party could always appeal against non-implementation of the order before the Supreme Court, it said.
While approving shifting of administrative control of the AFT to the Law Ministry, the committee noted that eventually it would come under the Central Tribunal Division proposed to be set up by the Ministry on the advice of the Supreme Court, for control of all tribunals. The Punjab and Haryana High Court, in its decision in the public interest litigation, ‘Maj Navdeep Singh vs. Union of India’, has already directed that the AFT be placed under the Law Ministry, and not the MoD, to ensure its independence and that keeping in view the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution, the government should have a minimal say in its functioning.
The committee has also noted that the tribunal’s regional benches are functioning with only eight judicial members, against the authorised strength of 15.