here on changes in the arrangements surrounding the Armed Forces Tribunal. Not good news for judicial independence:
The Union government has changed the rules governing appointment in the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT), giving more powers to the Defence Secretary who would now have a role in ordering inquiries against members of the tribunal and their removal.
Contravening a Constitutional Bench judgement of the Supreme Court which directed the placement of tribunals under the Law Ministry, the new rules reiterate that the AFT will function under the Ministry of Defence which, incidentally, is the ministry against which all orders of the AFT are to be passed.
The rules also reiterate the role of the Defence Secretary in selecting the Members of the tribunal and even consultation with the Chief Justice of India (CJI) has been abrogated.
The Defence Secretary and other bureaucrats would now have a role in ordering inquiries against members of the tribunal and their removal, which could only be undertaken by a Supreme Court judge till now.
The facilities and benefits of retired High Court Judges appointed as Judicial Members have been downgraded to regular Group A (Class I) officers of the Central Government.
While the SC had directed a longer tenure for tribunal members without a provision for re-appointment to ensure independence, the new rules have decreased even the existing tenure to 3 years and have provided for re-appointment by a selection committee, of which the Defence Secretary is a member. This, despite the fact that the Defence Secretary is the first respondent party in all litigation in AFT.