NEW DELHI: The Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) meant to provide justice to the aggrieved forces personnel is severely affected due to non-functional benches.
The pending cases in the AFT, set up only 10 years ago as dedicated courts in the three services, have spiralled to 16000.
With only three of the 11 benches functional, it is a long wait for justice for the litigants. The benches located in Chandigarh and Srinagar are the only ones functional apart from the principal bench in Delhi which is headed by the Tribunal's Chairperson. The principal bench alone has around 4,500 pending cases with most litigants making a beeline to it.
The Tribunal was set up in 2009 as per provisions of the Armed Forces Tribunal Act- 2007 to adjudicate cases pertaining to commissioning, appointments, enrolment and service conditions of military personnel.
As per the Act, only a retired judge of a high court below 65 years of age is eligible to be appointed as a judicial member. Each bench must consist of a judicial member apart from an administrative member.
Sources in the defence ministry, under which the Tribunal functions, said eight names - four for the post of judicial members and four for administrative members - have been short-listed. These appointments are likely to be made in August following final clearance.
The last judicial member to be appointed to the Tribunal was in the year 2017. Justice Sunita Gupta who had retired as a judge from Delhi High Court had been appointed as a judicial member to the principal bench in Delhi.
In September 2016, the Armed Forces Tribunal Bar Association had filed a complaint with the then Chief Justice of India demanding the immediate appointment of judicial members for swift disposal of cases. The Supreme Court had taken cognizance of the case and admitted it as a Public Interest Litigation.
However, the apex court is yet to deliver a final verdict in the case. The last time hearing was ever conducted in the matter was more than a year ago on February 23, 2018.
"The Tribunal lacks contempt powers. It has no power to ensure that its judgements are effectively executed. The Tribunal should be provided with the power of judicial review in order to give it more teeth. This issue has also been raised in the PIL", said Bar Association President A K Trivedi.
The other benches of the Tribunal are located in Lucknow, Kolkata, Guwahati, Mumbai, Kochi, Chennai, Jaipur and Jabalpur.