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Armed Forces Tribunal will be under Law Ministry

Clash of interests is being cited as the main reason why this tribunal must be removed from under the Ministry of Defence.


he Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) is all set to come under the Ministry of Law, instead of its parent body, the Ministry of Defence. The Supreme Court gave a directive to this effect in 2010 as it felt that the MoD could influence the tribunal's judgements since the latter dealt with decisions pertaining to the ministry. To ensure that fair judgements were given, the Supreme Court, in fact, directed that the administrative control of the AFT and all other tribunals should not be under their parent ministries. It recommended that the tribunals should be placed under one single nodal department, preferably the Department of Legal Affairs.

The SC directive has been under consideration ever since. But the matter got a fresh lease of life with Law Minister Salman Khurshid's recent statement in Parliament that the government was looking at the possibility of removing these tribunals from under their parent ministries and putting them under the Ministry of Law.

Clash of interests is the main reason why these tribunals need to be removed from under their parent ministries. To give an instance, the members comprising the AFT use the various facilities offered by the MoD, but are also required to pass orders against the ministry in the cases coming to them. An RTI query by a retired army officer revealed that the MoD funded AFT chairperson A.K. Mathur's foreign trips worth lakhs of rupees. The AFT also makes use of the infrastructure offered by the MoD to function: the land on which the AFTs are constructed is given by the MoD. The ministry gives the AFT members facilities such as the CSD (Canteen Stores Depot) cards. These are canteen cards that can be used to procure grocery and other household items at subsidised rates from all military canteens.

A senior retired army officer working as an administrative member at one of the AFT benches told this newspaper, "The AFTs should be under the Ministry of Law so that they can give fair judgements. Litigants are always afraid that fairness will go missing as the AFTs function from MoD land and do not have their own premises. Funds for the AFTs are also sanctioned through the MoD. The CSD cards given to the members are actually a privilege."

The Armed Forces Tribunal enjoys the status of a High Court, and came into being in 2009. Each court consists of a judicial member and an administrative member. The administrative member of an AFT is always a retired senior officer, usually a three-star officer. A source told this newspaper, "These retired officers usually know the applicants approaching the Tribunal. This increases the chances of the Tribunal's decisions being influenced. So their decisions are unlikely to be fair. This debate to delink the AFT from the administrative powers of the MoD has been going on for a long time."

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