A division bench comprising Justice Rajendra Menon, chairperson and Lt Gen P M Hariz of the principal bench of AFT Delhi passed the orders while dismissing an application filed by Dfr Shatrughan Singh Tomar (Representative image)
CHANDIGARH: The principal bench of the armed forces tribunal (AFT) has held that minor punishments given to military personnel by the military authorities through summary trials are excluded from the jurisdiction of the AFT. This means that the grievances of the defence personnel against any minor punishments would not be covered as “service matter” for redressal before the AFT.
The development is significant as several regional benches of the AFT have been entertaining every application filed by military personnel, including those against minor punishments.
With this, any punishment other than dismissal or imposition of three-month imprisonment on military personnel cannot be subject to the jurisdiction of the AFT.
A division bench comprising Justice Rajendra Menon, chairperson and Lt Gen P M Hariz of the principal bench of AFT Delhi passed the orders while dismissing an application filed by Dfr Shatrughan Singh Tomar.
The applicant, in this case, was enrolled in the Army on April 28, 1997, and said he had rendered 22 years of exceptional service. He was holding the rank of Havildar and according to him, he is due for promotion to the rank of ‘Naib Subedar’, having passed all the educational/technical qualifications, including the promotion cadre.
‘Punishment in question within exclusion clause’
It has been clearly laid down that punishments other than dismissal or imprisonment for more than three months imposed on the basis of a summary court-martial or summary disposal are not within the purview of the jurisdiction available to the Armed Forces Tribunal under Section 14 of the AFT Act… while interpreting a provision or statute affecting the jurisdiction of courts, their exclusions or inclusions, their extent should be understood in a manner as is explicitly expressed by the lawmaker and clearly implied from their intention,” observed the bench.
Records indicated that the applicant was involved in some disciplinary matter and after a summary trial at the time, he was punished with ‘severe reprimand’ on account of the fact that he was found intoxicated while on duty and certain other allegations were levelled against him.
The applicant had approached the principal bench of the AFT for quashing the punishment order dated September 23, 2019, vide which, on the basis of a summary trial held, punishment of ‘severe reprimand and a fine of seven-day pay’ had been imposed. The applicant wanted the punishment to be quashed and thereafter his case for promotion be considered.
Strongly opposing the application, the military authorities argued that as the punishment in question falls within the ‘exclusion clause’ as contained in Section 3(o) of the AFT Act, the AFT has no jurisdiction to deal with the matter. The authorities also contended that any punishment other than dismissal or imposition of three-month imprisonment imposed cannot be subjected to the jurisdiction of this Tribunal.
The applicant’s counsel, however, emphasised that once in similar circumstances in all these cases, the punishment of ‘severe reprimand’ has been interfered with by various benches of the tribunal, primarily on merits, the objection now is unsustainable and is liable to be rejected.
After hearing both the parties, the AFT principal bench held that the object of interpretation of the statute is to ascertain the intention of the legislature communicating it and advance the cause of such intention.
“The definition of ‘service matters’, if analysed in the backdrop of the principles of statutory provisions, would clearly show that in relation to persons subject to the Army Act, 1950; the Navy Act, 1957; and the Air Force Act, 1950; all matters relating to their conditions of service are brought within the purview of ‘service matters’… summary disposal and trials where the punishment of dismissal is awarded are specifically included in the definition of ‘service matters’, but all other punishments imposed after summary disposal or trials are excluded, from this cause,” held the AFT principal bench.