There is something very unique about the military community, and that is, axing their own rights and then celebrating it, realizing quite late as to what hit them!
This short-sighted approach has cost us a lot in the past. But then would we ever learn? Of course not!
Which organization would appeal to the Supreme Court seeking abrogation of its own fundamental rights?
This post is again about the recent decision of the Supreme Court on an appeal filed by the Ministry of Defence on the jurisdiction of High Courts to entertain writ petitions against orders passed by the Armed Forces Tribunal. The Supreme Court had held that High Courts should not entertain writ petitions against orders passed by the Armed Forces Tribunal and that litigants should file appeals in the Supreme Court instead.
Some of the members of the military community, thankfully in minority now, were trying to sell the idea of a direct appeal to the Supreme Court arising out of orders from the Armed Forces Tribunal, on the plank of it leading to ‘quicker justice’. Little did they fathom that what they were terming as ‘quick’ justice was in fact the absence of any judicial remedy at all due to the curtailment of the jurisdiction of High Courts. This is so since there is no vested right of appeal before the Supreme Court unless there is a ‘point of law of general public importance’ involved in the case. So effectively, as per the current system after the ibid decision, High Courts cannot interfere and the Supreme Court cannot be approached except in exceptional cases involving ‘public importance’. Moreover, there is no appeal at all provided, even to the Supreme Court, for interim orders passed by the AFT if either of the parties is dissatisfied. Besides that, even if the appeal to the Supreme Court had hypothetically existed as a matter of right, defence personnel or veterans or widows or their families cannot even dream of approaching the Supreme Court for their cases, making the entire concept of justice redundant, unaffordable and inaccessible for them, to say the least.
One of the cardinal principles in a democracy is the availability of judicial remedy in case a person is dissatisfied with a judicial order by a forum- a right available in abundance to each citizen in our country too, including all Government servants, except now for defence personnel, veterans and their families. And this absence of judicial remedy was being celebrated by some as ‘quicker justice’.
Now comes the shocker. One of the pleas taken by the Ministry of Defence (and also in all probability, elements of the Army Headquarters) before the Supreme Court in this case was that Article 33 of the Constitution of India empowers the system to restrict or abrogate fundamental rights of members of the Armed Forces and hence the fundamental right of remedy of a writ petition stands eliminated for the defence community.
This ground professed by the establishment therefore seems to suggest that members of the Armed Forces do not deserve the fundamental rights as guaranteed to other citizens of the Country. Have you ever heard of any organization placing before the Supreme Court a prayer to curtail its own rights? Well, now you have.
I find this plea detestable on multiple grounds:
Firstly, Article 33 purely deals with maintenance of discipline while on duty and has no link whatsoever with the right of defence personnel to seek invocation of the writ jurisdiction of Constitutional Courts, that is, the High Courts and the Supreme Court.
Secondly, the same Article 33 is applicable to all other uniformed services, including the Police, have the rights of those organisations been abrogated or restricted in this regard? Have those organisations or will those organisations approach the Supreme Court with such inane pleas? A civilian government servant can invoke writ jurisdiction of the High Court if he/she is dissatisfied with the order of the Central Administrative Tribunal, but now a member of the military cannot! Does this call for celebration?
Thirdly, most of the cases relate to veterans, widows and family members and Article 33 has no applicability over them. And what would happen to Article 39A which entails equal opportunity to justice?
Fourthly, why on earth would the Army or the Ministry even attempt to suggest to the Supreme Court or elsewhere that the defence community does not deserve the fundamental rights as enjoyed by each and every citizen of this land. Has the top brass analyzed this plea, the decision and its after-effects on the status of members and former members of the military? A dangerous proposition reflecting the worst kind of self-goal.
Mark my words, since independence this has been the biggest hit to the rights of the protectors of our frontiers and their families, and it does seem that many of us have not realized it yet.
Yes, gullible. And sad.