Wednesday, 3 April 2013

RTI reveals MoD largesse to Armed Forces Tribunal




By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 2nd Apr 13

Discontent over legal recourse simmers within the military, with officers and enlisted personnel saying that the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) --- a judicial tribunal that soldiers must petition for justice before approaching the civil courts --- usually obliges the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in its judgments. The ministry’s control over AFT appointments, funds, infrastructure and manpower, produces judgments that suit the MoD, allege these critics.

The Punjab & Haryana High Court and the Parliament’s Standing Committee for Defence have already accepted the conflict of interest in the MoD’s control over the AFT, given that most cases that the AFT hears has the MoD as a respondent. But the MoD is resisting the move to place the AFT under the Ministry for Law and Justice.

A series of MoD responses to queries submitted under the Right to Information (RTI) illustrate the ministry’s hold over the AFT. The answers expose the MoD’s control over foreign trips by AFT members; and the ministry’s grant of canteen shopping facilities to retired judges who are “Judicial Members” on AFT benches, based on the logic that they are “MoD employees”. The responses reveal that “Administrative Members” on AFT benches, who are retired generals, are called in by army formations to “sensitize” them to the cases that they are hearing. The MoD’s answers also reveal that members are appointed to benches apparently without background checks on their records.

The MoD admits paying over Rs 67 lakhs for five “official foreign visits” by the AFT chairperson and members. In letter F. No. 10(10)/2012/AFG(PB)/RTI dated 24th July 2012, in response to an RTI query by Colonel (Retired) Satwant Singh, the MoD says, “As per the records available… a sum of Rs 67,85,109/- was incurred on foreign tours of Hon’ble Chairperson and Members.”

In the same letter the MoD admits that canteen cards, which entitle defence employees to shop at discounted rates from Canteen Stores Department (CSD) outlets, are also provided to the retired judges who are hired as “Judicial Members” of the AFT. The MoD explains “CSD Canteen Cards (Grocery) have been issued to Judicial Members of AFT, in view of the fact that their salaries are paid from Ministry of Defence (Civil) Estimates.”

“This is clear conflict of interest. How can judges rule against the MoD in any case brought before the AFT, when the MoD is regarded as the employer? And if the judge is not an MoD employee, how is the MoD providing subsidized canteen cards?” asks a high-ranking serving officer whose case is before the AFT, but who says he is doubtful about obtaining real justice.

The MoD’s relationship with the AFT is also evident from the ministry’s response to another RTI question by Col Satwant Singh, asking whether the Lucknow-based Central Command had proposed meeting the senior military officers in the AFT bench (Administrative Members, as they are called) in order to “sensitize (them) about the important cases being handled by them and about other issues relating to functioning of the AFT.”

In letter No. 149002/RTI/C/Edn dated Oct 19, 2012, Central Command did not deny that such a letter had been written, but refused to divulge any details saying, “Info(rmation) is exempted under Section 8(I)(e) of Right to Information Act, 2005. Hence cannot be provided.”

Section 8(I)(e) denies information “unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information.”

AFT judgments are increasingly drawing criticism. The Punjab and Haryana High Court has recently overturned several AFT decisions that denied relief to defence veterans, especially disabled soldiers. The AFT has drawn bitter criticism from ex-servicemen’s bodies for allegedly toeing the MoD’s line, even when veterans were being unjustifiably denied their due. The MoD’s ironically named Department of Ex-Servicemen’s Welfare is criticized for its reflexive opposition to veterans’ appeals for disability benefits.

In one recent case, the court pulled up the AFT for passing off as “constitutional” disabilities that the rules list as “affected by stress and strain of service”. In another case, in which the AFT had supported the MoD in dismissing a pension claim, the high court termed the AFT’s judgment as ‘myopic,’ reminding it that pension is not a bounty but is the property of an individual.

5 comments:

Yogi said...

Present day India resembles post - Aurangzeb Moghul Empire. Venal and self-serving system, where every thing, from post of Prime Minister (vakil) down to faujdar of Bidar was on sale to highest bidder. The Princes dressed in silk robes sat on domesticated tigers as mark of their bravery, just as today we have false mobilizations called Parakaram. Bad shah-e-Alam whose writ ran from Red Fort to Palam visited his concubines riding at the head of a mile long procession of caparisoned elephants, led y craiers pronouncing their false claims just as today's politicians run about Luteyan's Delhi in a cavalcade of BMWs led by
screeching sirens of a dysfunctional police. Judiciary is also engaged in feathering their nest especially post retirement.

Gabbar said...

In its present form, the AFT creates more problems than solves.
Retired Army Commanders hanker for appointment as Administrative Members where Major Generals are expected (stooping to conquer?).
The ex-JAG Branch legal eagles are flooded with business created by litigants. And in the absense of any oversight, the litigants are exploited financially as a rule. There are also rumors of a conniving nexus between serving JAG Deptt officers and their retired brethren working in AFTs so as to generate litigation for business.
The AFTs themselves are famous for being quick and decisive in cases involving service matters, particularly pensionary and emolument issues. Again, rumour has it that with retired General officers as Administrative members, they spare no effort to decide favourably and expeditiously in matters where they are ultimate beneficiaries. When it comes to deciding litigation aiding from disciplinary cases, all AFTs are guilty of serious delays of months, and now years, in disposing disciplinary cases arising from military trials. Instead, the AFT brazenly steps into the domain of the Army and has made a habit of interfering with the disciplinary powers and process of military commanders. Often vested interests are all too apparent in the perversities of the AFT.
Clearly, the AFTs have established a 'business model' wherein AFT Legal Cells nominate Govt counsels to defend State interests. The Govt counsels are especially pathetic professionally but manage to stretch out hearings as their incomes are dependent on 'effective appearances'. At other places money is known to change hands wherein Govt counsels agree, for a consideration, to dilute their defence to the benefit of the other party. Why, in AFT Legal Cell Delhi cases are assigned to specific Benches for a consideration in the definite hope of favorable outcomes.
So, clearly all is not well within the AFT itself.

Anonymous said...

I second Gabbar's observations. Recent events have proved beyond doubt that the AFTs are a financial windfall for the JAG Branch jojos. I believe the MoD has sanctioned nearly 280 additional officers in the JAG Deptt cadre including an additional Maj Gen, a few Brigs and the rest. Recent events have shown how JAG Branch has used the AFTs to settle personal scores and grievances.
I know for certain of OsIC AFT Legal Cells taking their 'cuts' from Govt Counsels while underwriting 'effective hearings'. Ex-JAG Deptt officers practicing in AFTs charge their clients through the roof; Rs 50k for a bail / stay application, Rs 5L for defending at a GCM, Rs 50k for legal advice during C of I or at S of E.

What really galls is the hint of a nexus between serving JAG Deptt officers manning crucial staff appointments at Corps, Command & Army HQ and retired JAG Deptt officers practicing at AFTs. There is rampant quid pro quo as the serving section generates and sustains business for the retired brethren. Cases are stretched out by serving JAG advisors to reach trial stage to the enormous benefit of the retired sharks who then stretch out the appeals process at the AFTs which in turn gets prolonged by serving JAG staff into lengthy appellate reviews before High Courts / Supreme Courts.

If you look at the professional credentials of the judicial members of the AFTs, a murkier picture emerges. To put it mildly, none of the Judicial members were ever renowned for their legal or judicial acumen. In fact, they are discards of the civil judiciary that would never have got a second consideration anywhere. Add to that legally clueless Administrative members and the problems becomes acute.

Mathur and his cronies had no business going abroad at public expense except to sharpen their habitual 'freedom fighting' skills. Something every Govt servant learns well - how to 'live off the land'. Alas, my India ! We are truly blessed.

ADmin said...

At that point, they review a second article, running it through the same right here procedure and reviewing model they had made for the first paper

Anonymous said...

AFTS Should always be under law ministery so as to acheive speedy n fair trial n judges should not be from service background i am unable to understand that what is the need to issue them canteen grocery card once they r retired army offrs they r having already such n many more privelages . whoever seeks shelter from aft,aft till the time passes its judgment the applicant has been harassed mentaly n physicaly by the respondent n his authority n power in my veiw aft should immediate pass an interim order for relief of applicant.