It would appear a rather loose ship that Nirmala Sitharaman is running in South Block. Twice in recent weeks have their Lordships Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta of the Supreme Court been constrained to slam the Ministry of Defence for indulging in excessive litigation in trying to thwart orders of the Armed Forces Tribunal granting relief to a soldier.
Clearly irked by the fact that there had been no positive impact of the fine of Rs 100,000 it had just imposed on the MoD for a similar transgression, the apex court has now asked the government to wake up to its duties and responsibilities to the justice delivery system.
It had first spoken of “ego” propelled litigation clogging the apex court, in an order of April 24 the bench said, “the couldn’t-care-less and insouciant attitude of the Union of India with regard to litigation, particularly in the Supreme Court, has gone a little too far”.
Dismissing an appeal against the AFT order, the court observed that several similar matters had been disposed of earlier, adding that “the Union of India must appreciate that by pursuing frivolous or infructuous cases it is adding to the burden of this court, and collaterally harming other litigants by delaying hearing of their cases through the sheer volume of numbers.”
The bench pointed out that 10 lawyers, including an additional solicitor general, were engaged in the case before it. “The Union of India has thus created a huge financial liability…and asking the taxpayer to bear an avoidable financial burden for the misadventure.” The court “hoped that some day some sense will prevail with regard to the formulation and implementation of a realistic and meaningful national litigation policy.”
That it where Mrs Sitharaman could step in. And not merely because the law minister is too busy for such trivia while waging a “turf battle” with the apex court. An in-house study points to the MoD being a hyper-active litigant, particularly in appealing against awards of the AFT. The Tribunal had actually been established to reduce the litigation which the MOD undertook in various High Courts ~ as well as infuse a degree of humaneness into the system of military justice.
The defence minister is best-placed to either permit the AFT to “deliver” as envisaged, or muster the moral courage to junk the Tribunal. For far too long have the bureaucrats used every ruse in the book to hinder the functioning of the AFT, and have driven many a military veteran to despair and financial ruin when litigating for benefits they “earned” when braving the elements and enemy bullets defending the nation’s territorial integrity and honour.
No defence minister can singularly provide the forces with all the weapons and equipment they need, but they can help the soldier secure a fair deal. Will Mrs Sitharaman do what Arun Jaitley, Manohar Parrikar and AK Antony lacked the gumption to fight for?