The Uttarakhand High Court recently directed the Centre to establish a Regional Bench of Armed Forces Tribunal in the State of Uttarakhand within four months. Till then, the Circuit Bench has been directed to hold proceedings at Nainital every month.
The Bench comprising Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Lok Pal Singh observed, "We, as a nation, are proud of the armed forces. The sacrifices made by the armed forces personnel during the active war and in peace cannot be forgotten. It is the duty cast upon the society as a whole to ensure that their grievances are redressed immediately. The Central Government cannot deny issuing notification for establishment of Regional Bench of Armed Forces Tribunal in the State of Uttarakhand on the pretext of huge expenditure. It is the duty of the Central Government to provide speedy justice to its citizens more particularly to the ex-servicemen."The Court was hearing a petition filed by ex-serviceman and practicing Advocate Mr. Lalit Kumar, contending that it becomes difficult for serving as well as retired ex-servicemen to access the Armed Forces Tribunal at Lucknow.
The Regional Bench at Lucknow was constituted in November, 2009, and initially had jurisdiction over the States of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh. Thereafter, in May, 2016, a Regional Bench at Jabalpur was constituted, with jurisdiction within the territorial limits of the States of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.
The Court now noted that 220 cases of the State of Uttarakhand are pending before the Lucknow Bench, and attributed the low figure to the inconvenience in approaching the Bench. It opined,"The reason for low pendency of the cases in the Armed Forces Tribunal, Regional Bench, Lucknow might be that most of the litigants have waived/ sacrificed their legal rights in non approaching the Armed Force Tribunal Act as it is difficult for the serving armed forces personnel as well as ex-servicemen including widows and minors to approach the Armed Forces Tribunal Bench at Lucknow, taking into consideration the geographical and hilly terrain of the Uttarakhand State"
The Court further refused to accept concerns of there being heavy expenditure in establishing a Bench of the Tribunal, noting that the difficulties being faced by armed forces personnel need to be taken into consideration. It asserted,"The access to justice within a reasonable cost is the underlying principle of the Armed Forces Tribunal Act, 2007. If the Central Government is concerned about the expenditure incurred on the Circuit Bench, the plight of the armed forces personnel to go too far of Lucknow cannot be undermined. It is very difficult for the armed forces personnel and the ex-servicemen including widows and minors to espouse their grievance by going to Lucknow."
Thereafter, taking into consideration "the highest density of servicemen employed from the State of Uttarakhand", as well as the fact that the Centre had already decided to notify a Circuit Bench at Nainital, the Court disposed of the petition, with a direction to the Centre to put in place a regional bench for the State within four months.
Read The Judgment Here: