14 Oct 2023 11:24 AM GMT
While defending the transfer of a judicial member of the Armed Forces Tribunal, Chandigarh Bench, Attorney General for India R Venkataramani told the Supreme Court on Friday (October 13) that there is a "racket" conducting disability pension cases at the AFT. The AG also questioned the genuineness of the petition filed by Armed Forces Tribunal Chandigarh Bar Association (AFTCBA) challenging...
While defending the transfer of a judicial member of the Armed Forces Tribunal, Chandigarh Bench, Attorney General for India R Venkataramani told the Supreme Court on Friday (October 13) that there is a "racket" conducting disability pension cases at the AFT.
The AG also questioned the genuineness of the petition filed by Armed Forces Tribunal Chandigarh Bar Association (AFTCBA) challenging the transfer of Justice Dharam Chand Chaudhary from Chandigarh Bench to the Calcutta Bench of the AFT.
AG said that the petition filed by the Association was "collusive" and "an abuse of process". Advocate K Parameswar, appearing for the Association, objected to the AG's comments by saying that he, as the "leader of the bar", should not be making adverse statements against a Bar Association. Parameshwar asserted that the Bar Association was espousing the cause of the independence of judiciary.
A bench comprising CJI DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra was hearing the case. On the previous date, after the Association alleged that the judge was transferred at the instance of the Ministry of Defence as he was about to hear contempt cases against the Ministry for not paying disability pensions, the bench had called for a report from the AFT Chairperson regarding the reasons for the transfer. The transfer of the judicial member required "close scrutiny", the bench led by CJI had observed on the previous date.
On Friday, appearing for the Ministry, the AG said that there were "a lot of cases where there was a sense of impropriety", while adding that he did not want to elaborate much in the open.
He said that several erroneous orders relating to disability pension were passed.
"If we have to open up, lots of things can come up...I can give ample of cases. Somebody in 1954 - the person dies and the court reinstates him after his death and his pension from 1984. There are a series of cases like that. And it's not an error or mistake or a wrong reading of law. I can't condone...Rs 30-40 Lakh arrears. The Ministry now finds that there is some kind of a racket which is running on disability pension cases," AG said while urging the bench to trust the wisdom of the AFT Chairperson, who is a retired High Court judge.
AG said that over 1942 cases were converted into contempt or execution petitions. "The full bench, do they have a contempt jurisdiction at all? The Chairman advised him not to go with contempt petitions.They advised at an administrative level," AG stated.
"Virtually it has become a racket on disability pensions...there are about 3000 cases. It has become a business....I've been following this matter for a month. Can the bar question like this?" AG asked.
The Association's counsel then said that the AG's statement indicated that the transfer was at the instance of the Ministry.
As per the report of the AFT Chairperson, the transfer was made to fill the deficit of a judicial member in the Calcutta bench of the AFT. The report stated that both the Guwahati as well as the Calcutta benches of the AFT were not functioning owing to the non-availability of a judicial member in these benches. As an ad-hoc arrangement, judicial members were invited from time to time from the Lucknow bench or the Principal bench to Calcutta and Guwahati benches to conduct proceedings and make these regional tribunals functional. However, the same was not feasible. Since the Chandigarh bench was the only bench with a surplus judicial member, as per the report, Justice Chaudhary, being the senior most member, was transferred temporarily to Calcutta bench till the post of a judicial member in the Calcutta bench was filled up.
Noting that there was "no reason to doubt the exercise of administrative discretion by the chairperson of the AFT" in transferring Justice Chaudhary, the bench comprising CJI DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala, and Justice Manoj Misra rejected the prayer challenging the transfer.
While the bench rejected the prayer pertaining to the transfer, it decided to consider the prayer concerning the control of the tribunal being with the Ministry. Regarding the same, it granted two weeks time to the Union to file its response.
Case Title: Armed Forces Tribunal Bar Association Chandigarh v. Union of India W.P.(C) No. 1121/2023