SC refuses to interfere with order transferring Justice D C Chaudhary from AFT Chandigarh regional bench

The Supreme Court Friday refused to interfere with an order to transfer Justice D C Chaudhary from the regional bench at Chandigarh to Kolkata, saying there was no reason to doubt the “administrative discretion” of the chairperson of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) who had a “stellar reputation” as a judge.

A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, however, sought the response of the Centre on another prayer by the AFT Bar Association of Chandigarh against making the Union Ministry of law and Justice the parent ministry for the tribunal instead of the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Attorney General R Venkataramani, during the hearing, hesitatingly referred to the alleged “racket on disability pension” running in the regional branch of the AFT in Chandigarh, and said a “can of worms” will be opened if he speaks more on that.

The top-most law officer cited the example of a person who had died in 1980 and his pension was ordered since 1984.

“In every case, Rs 30 to 40 lakh arrears are being ordered to be paid…Such orders are becoming orders of the day,” he said, adding around 8,000 pension cases are pending in Punjab and several of them have been converted into execution petitions. As per Rule 2 (e) of Civil Rules of Practice “Execution Petition” means a petition to the court for the execution of any decree or order.

“A racket on disability pension is going on,” he alleged and added he was pursuing the matter for a month.

This was seriously objected to by the counsel for the bar body who said now the cat is out of the bag, and it amply indicated that the transfer of Justice Chaudhary took place at the instance of the government.

The top court perused the report of Justice Rajendra Menon, the AFT chairperson, and said he had a stellar reputation as a high court judge and the chief justice of the Delhi High Court.

The bench also did not agree with the contention of the bar body that the Ministry of Defence was interfering with the functioning of the tribunal and consequently harming the independence of the AFT.

“There is no reason for this court to doubt the exercise of administrative discretion of the chairperson of AFT on this ground as posting of members to different benches lies within the administrative control of the chairperson,” the bench said in its order.

The bench also noted the chairperson has stated that no execution application been transferred from any regional bench.

“Thus, we come to the conclusion that the administrative discretion to transfer Justice Chaudhary does not merit interference under Article 32. The petition seeking interference in his transfer stands rejected,” it said.

The bench then posted the matter after three weeks to deal with the issue of shifting the control of the AFT from the Ministry of Defence to the Ministry of Law and Justice.

Earlier, the top court on October 9 asked the AFT chief to submit a report indicating the circumstances in which the order transferring Justice D C Chaudhary from the regional bench at Chandigarh to Kolkata was passed.

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It had said the circumstances referred to by the petitioner in which Justice Chaudhary was transferred from the Chandigarh regional bench merits “close scrutiny”.

Highlighting the grievance raised by the petitioner, the apex court observed the Bar association has referred to an order passed by the Chandigarh regional bench in December 2017 in a matter pertaining to grant of pension to ‘Naib subedars’ in the Indian Army.

The petitioner’s counsel said the matter relates to the compliance of the order regarding pension which is pending before the AFT’s regional bench in Chandigarh.

“The chairperson of the AFT shall submit a report indicating the circumstance in which the order of transfer of Justice D C Chaudhary from the regional bench at Chandigarh to the regional bench at Kolkata was passed,” the bench had said.

While issuing notice to the Centre and others on the petition, the bench said, “Pending further orders, Justice D C Chaudhary shall not be required to assume charge at the regional bench at Kolkata”.

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