The Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) Chandigarh Bench Bar Association wrote to Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud on Wednesday and alleged that the Union defence minister Rajnath Singh openly admitted to interfering in the transfer of Justice Dharam Chand Chaudhary.
According to the letter, the union minister openly acknowledged the involvement of the ministry in the transfer just before a contempt case was to be heard, during an event of the Defence Accounts Department on October 1.
The minister was heard saying that as a member of the accounts department, one cannot keep everyone happy and acknowledged the "escape" of the alleged contemnor - an officer of the Defence Accounts Department, the letter mentioned.
Singh was heard saying in Hindi which translates to, "The Accounts Department is a department where you cannot keep everyone happy after taking its responsibilities. Someone will definitely be upset, that's for sure. Because resources are limited, and you see, one officer narrowly escaped here."
The bar body pointed out that the statement made by Rajnath Singh drew laughter and jeers from the audience in which the contemnor was present. "The laughter regarding committing contempt of court and flouting of judicial orders is also very distasteful," added the letter.
Moreover, the letter referred to the minister urging the Chairperson and members of AFT a few days earlier to slow down case disposal, stating that "justice hurried is justice denied".
The letter expressed dissatisfaction with the negative impact on the confidence of litigants before the AFT, where the defence ministry is the opposite party in all cases before it, is offering to advice to a tribunal on how to manage its caseload.
The letter read, "It is also surprising that while all Courts and Government Departments endeavour to speed up disposal rates in judicial bodies, here the Ministry of Defence (the primary litigant) is asking the Court to slow down disposal. It is understood that the Principal Bench at Delhi, for this reason, does not dispose cases and keeps them reserved for months together."
Meanwhile, the Bar Association has requested data regarding the case disposal rates of the AFT's principal bench. The association then clarified that it is not questioning the integrity of the defense minister or the defence secretary, but highlighting how they might be influenced by defence ministry officials, especially those in the accounts department.
The direct attack on the independence of the AFT irrespective of the reasons, is unacceptable to the lawyers or the litigants and has shaken the faith of ex-servicemen, disabled ex-servicemen and windows who constitute the majority of the litigants before the AFT. The letter to the CJI asked him to take cognizance of the matter and to take effective steps to 'nip this malaise in the bud'.
Bar and Bench could not get the defence ministry to comment on the matter.
It may be noted that the chairperson of the AFT had on September 25, transferred judicial member Justice Dharam Chand Chaudhary from the Chandigarh bench to the Kolkata bench of the tribulan "for administrative reasons in public interest".
Furthermore, the chairperson had transferred the contempt case to himself in which the Defence Accounts Department official failed to implement judgments of the Supreme Court, a case that was to be heard by Jusice Chaudhary.
On September 25, the AFT Bar had in a strongly worded letter to the CJI, alleged that Justice Chaudhary's transfer was a consequence of the strict orders passed by him against senior government officials of the defence ministry. The Association also decided to indefinitely abstain from work as a mark of protest on that day.
Later on, the AFT bar associations at Jammu and Lucknow also expressed solidarity with the AFT Chandigarh Bar Association in objecting to the transfer of Justice Chaudhary. Since then, more bar associations have supported the AFT Chandigarh Bar Association in its protest.
The Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) Bar Association is the latest association to join the protest against the transfer.
As per a resolution issued by this Association on Wednesday, the core issue of the controversy ails not only the bar and bench at Chandigarh, but is a cause for grievance for all litigants from the Armed Forces as well as for the entire legal and judicial fraternity across the country.
(With inputs from Bar and Bench)