A PIL has been filed in the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir, challenging the Government notification whereby Chandigarh Bench of CAT has been conferred with the jurisdiction to adjudicate service matters relating employees of government of UT of J&K.
The Notification issued by the Central Government on April 29, 2020 has the effect of transferring all service disputes pertaining to the employees of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir which are pending before the High Court or yet to be filed from the date of Notification, to CAT, Chandigarh.
Impugning the notification on the below mentioned grounds, the PIL seeks constitution of a permanent Bench/ Benches (Circuit Benches) of Central Administrative Tribunal in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir at Jammu and Srinagar.
Technological & Economic Disability
The Petitioner-Advocates Aditya Sharma and Rameshwar Padha have argued that it will be impossible for litigants/ Advocates in J&K to make a representation before the bench in Chandigarh due to geographic remoteness, financial constraints and unavailability of internet access.
"The large parts of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir are remote, inaccessible and even have no access to fast speed internet facilities due to the peculiar security threats as has been repeatedly admitted by the Respondents. The question of e-filling of cases and arguing cases by video conferencing by litigants and their advocates residing in those areas is a mere impossibility. Moreover the unemployed Youth would be severely handicapped Physically and financially to challenge selection matters before the CAT Chandigarh," they have submitted.
Moreover, they submitted that the cases to be transferred have not been digitalized by the High Court and as such it is impossible for any advocate practicing in the UT to pursue their cases by way of video conferencing or whatsapp calling.
Further, they pointed out that 90% of the Advocates and Judges have no knowledge of computer and are severely disabled to file cases by way of e-mail and argue through videoconferencing.
It has been asserted that the Government is "obliged" to provide justice in view of Article 39-A of the Constitution which enjoins it to ensure that opportunity for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of "economic or other disabilities".
Fails Test of proportionality and reasonableness
They have also submitted that the notification fails the "test of proportionality and reasonableness" inasmuch as CAT, Chandigarh doesn't have sufficient benches and is already buried with pending matters.
The Petitioners pointed out that over 1,100 cases are already pending before the CAT Chandigarh and simultaneously around 40,000 service matters are pending before the High Court of J&K are likely to be transferred to it.
In these circumstances it was submitted, "CAT has a sanctioned strength of 65 members for dealing with more than 50 thousand cases and with the present transfer of cases the sanctioned strength would remain the same which is not in accordance with the test of Reasonability and proportionality as envisaged under the Article 14 of the Constitution of India."
The Petitioners fear that "the influx of 40,000 cases will not be listed for many years to come taking into account the working days and vacancy position of the Chandigarh Bench."
In this context they added that the notification defeats the objective with which Tribunals were first established, i.e., "meaningful and effective dispensation of justice", and it also negates the right to speedy justice, a facet of Article 21 of the Constitution.
The Petitioners have pointed out that the status of J&K, regarding it being a UT or State is pending consideration before the Supreme Court in Mohd. Akbar Lone & Anr. v. Union Of India & Ors., and other connected matters.
In case the outcome of these proceedings is to restore the "State of J&K", the Petitioners submitted, all the service matters will have to be restored to the J&K High Court, leading to much chaos and uncertainty.
"Consequent legal effect [of restoration of statehood] would be that the jurisdiction of the CAT would be outsted pertaining to the service disputes of the employees of the State of J&K who are at present the employees of the UT of J&K. This would necessarily means that in case the present service petitions Pending before the Hon'ble Court are transferred to CAT Bench Chandigarh in pursuance of the impugned notification then the same would be likely to be again re transferred back to the Hon'ble High Court," the Petitioners submitted.
Accordingly, the Petitioners have sought that the impugned notification be quashed and permanent benches be established in the cities of Jammu and Kashmir.
The plea has been filed through Advocate Gagan Basotra.
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