Establish Regional Bench Of AFT In The State Within 4 Months: Uttarakhand High Court To Centre

To begin with, in a landmark judgment with far reaching consequences which shall ensure that all those litigants hailing from the hilly state of Uttarakhand who had to earlier go from Uttarakhand to very far away place like Lucknow, the Uttarakhand High Court has pronounced a landmark verdict just recently. The Uttarakhand High Court in the landmark case of Lalit Kumar v Union of India & Ors in Writ Petition (PIL) No. 203 of 2014 dated 12 June 2018 directed the Centre to establish a Regional Bench of Armed Forces Tribunal in the State of Uttarakhand within four months. This has certainly galvanized all those people from the hilly state of Uttarakhand who were earlier compelled to travel so far away to Lucknow just for attending court hearings!

                                  While craving for the exclusive indulgence of my esteemed readers, let me inform them that the Bench of Uttarakhand High Court comprising of Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Lok Pal Singh while pronouncing the landmark judgment observed that, “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.” Absolutely right! The Central Government must now stop coughing out excuses for not creating a Regional Bench of Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) in the State of Uttarakhand and should implement the landmark judgment delivered by the Uttarakhand High Court.
                               For my esteemed readers exclusive indulgence, let me also inform them that the Uttarakhand High 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 petition had been filed for the establishment of a permanent Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal in the State of Uttarakhand.  According to the averments made in the petition, it is difficult for the serving as well as retired ex-servicemen to have access to the Armed Forces Tribunal at Lucknow.
                                      It would be imperative to mention here that the Regional Bench at Lucknow was constituted in November 2009, and initially had jurisdiction over the States of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Chhatisgarh. Thereafter, in May 2016, a Regional Bench at Jabalpur was constituted with jurisdiction within the territorial limits of the States of Chhatisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. The question that naturally arises here is: When a Regional Bench can be created at Jabalpur then why can’t a Regional Bench be created at Nainital?
                                 To be sure, the Uttarakhand High Court now noted that 220 cases of the State of Uttarakhand are pending before the Lucknow Bench, and attributed the low figure to the inconveniences faced by the litigants in approaching the Bench. So this perennial problem had to be addressed now to provide a lasting solution to it. The Bench of Uttarakhand High Court opined that, “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 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.”  
                                    Going forward, 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 the armed forces personnel need to be taken into consideration. It also asserted that, “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.”  
                                     Simply put, the Uttarakhand High Court reiterates in para 10 of the landmark judgment that, “This Court had been emphasizing upon the Central Government to have a permanent bench in the State of Uttarakhand taking into consideration, the highest density of servicemen employed from the State of Uttarakhand including large segment of retired armed forces personnel, ex-navy men and ex-air force personnel. Several prime offices like The Indian Military Academy, Dehradun, Garhwal Regimental Centre, Gorkha Regimental Centre, Kumaon Regimental Centre, Ranikhet Cantonment, Pithoragarh Cantonment, Joshimath Cantonment, Chakrata Cantonment are situated in the State of Uttarakhand. The purpose of constituting Armed Forces Tribunal is to provide speedy justice to the armed forces personnel. The armed forces personnel cannot approach the civil courts including the high courts as per Section 33 of the Act. The pending matters have also been transferred under Section 34 of the Act. In the counter affidavit, it is highlighted that Government incurs heavy expenditure for the Circuit Bench to come to Nainital. 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 to 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. In case, there is a permanent Bench in the State of Uttarakhand, the number of cases would also automatically go up. The number may be low today but it is likely to increase with the passage of time. The Central Government is empowered, under sub-section (4) of Section 5 of the Act, to establish Benches by issuing a necessary Notification. Speedy justice is the fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. 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.”  
                                   It would be pertinent to also mention here that para 11 of this landmark judgment makes it a point to specifically observe that, “It is apt to note here that considering the pendency of cases the Central Government already decided to notify the Circuit Bench at Nainital. Therefore, it can be safely presumed that there is a requirement of Regional Bench of Armed Forces Tribunal in the State of Uttarakhand. Easy access of justice is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.” Rightly said! There can be no denying or disputing it!
                                      Last but not the least, para 12 finally disposes of the petition observing that, “Accordingly, present petition is disposed of with a direction to the Central Government to issue notification for establishment of Regional Bench of Armed Forces Tribunal in the State of Uttarakhand, at an appropriate place, taking into consideration the availability of infrastructure, within a period of four months from today. Till the issuance of Notification of Regional Bench, the Circuit Bench shall hold the proceedings every month at Nainital.”
                               All said and done, it is an excellent and an exemplary judgment. Centre must promptly implement whatever the 2 Judge Bench of Uttarakhand High Court comprising of Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Lok Pal Singh have directed in their 13 page landmark judgment. Regional Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal must be established within four months as directed in this landmark judgment! Centre should waste no further time in implementing it. It is unquestionable that this is the crying need of the hour also!   
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.
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