Chief Justice of India K. G. Balakrishnan inaugurated the Jaipur Bench of the newly established Armed Forces Tribunal here on Saturday, while emphasising its significance as a forum for effective redressal of grievances for the defence personnel. The Bench will comprise three courts, each manned by a judicial and an administrative member.
Addressing the gathering at the newly built complex of the Bench at the Army cantonment area here, Mr. Justice Balakrishnan called upon the tribunal to ensure its institutional and personal independence while making decisions and said its members must demonstrate efficiency by providing speedy justice and maintaining a healthy disposal rate of cases.
About 480 cases of the Armed Forces personnel pending in the Rajasthan High Court have been transferred to the tribunal, which had started functioning in the High Court’s old building here three months ago.
Justice Bhanwaru Khan, former Judge of Rajasthan High Court, and Lt. Gen. Sushil Gupta, former Judge Advocate General of the Army, have been appointed the judicial member and administrative member, respectively, of the tribunal’s Jaipur Bench.
Justice Balakrishnan, while observing that the military justice system had to evolve towards liberal norms and at the same time ensure maintenance of a high level of discipline and efficiency among the soldiers, said the tribunal’s orders and decisions should be properly enforced.
“It is my sincere hope that various Benches of the tribunal will perform well on all of these counts,” said the Chief Justice while affirming that it was necessary to create a specialised forum to protect the interests of the defence personnel working in far-flung areas and maintain the prestige of the Armed Forces.
Justice Balakrishnan referred to a judgment of the Supreme Court delivered in 1982, which was made the basis for the Law Commission’s recommendation for amending the statutes governing the Army, Air Force and the Navy and establish a tribunal for the defence staff. The Armed Forces Tribunal Act was passed and enacted in 2007.
The tribunal has been empowered to hear and decide grievances pertaining to service matters such as remuneration, retirement benefits, tenure, appointment, seniority, promotion and superannuation. In its appellate functions, the tribunal has been given the powers to decide appeals against the decisions given in court martial proceedings.
The Chief Justice said the powers given to the tribunal to grant bail to persons placed in military custody provided a “significant safeguard”, as the tense environment prevailing during active operations or in a disturbed area might “unconsciously lead to hasty decisions”.
Justice Balakrishnan also felt that the establishment of the tribunal would facilitate scrutiny of cases by the impartial persons who are insulated from the routine pressures of military life. In many cases, officers who serve as judges in court martial proceedings may not strictly adhere to procedural safeguards such as a fair hearing or due consideration of material on record.
Among others, Justice Dalveer Bhandari, Judge of the Supreme Court; Justice A. K. Mathur, Chairman, Armed Forces Tribunal, New Delhi; Justice Jagdish Bhalla, Chief Justice of Rajasthan High Court; and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot were present on the occasion.
Mr. Gehlot said the State Government had launched modernisation of lower courts and started construction of a new building for the Rajasthan High Court’s principal seat in Jodhpur. He said 45 Gram Nyayalayas (village courts) and two more special CBI courts would be established shortly in the State.