In a first of its kind case that has come up in the Delhi-based principal bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal, a serving army doctor has approached the court for admission to the post graduate degree course being conducted in the army's Research and Referral hospital in New Delhi. The doctor, after having cleared the entrance, was turned out on the pretext of lack of resources and teaching faculty.
He is the only serving officer among the 14 candidates, while others have left service after their compulsory short service commission stint.
The matter will be heard next month at the AFT, after a show cause notice was served to the senior most army medical corps officer, the Director General Armed Forces Medical Services. The DGAFMS post is a three-star appointment, currently held by Lieutenant General H L Kakria. The post is held by the senior most doctor in the armed forces.
Retired Major K Ramesh, the counsel for Major Upadhyaya and four SSC retired army doctors, all of whom have cleared this exam and are among the 14 aggrieved candidates denied admission, said that, "There are a total of 56 seats for this course, but the hospital stopped taking candidates after 42, saying that there was a shortage of faculty as well as resources, but we found out that there are 70 faculty members, which is more than adequate, and in the past also all seats have been filled up. But only this year, for the first time, they are refusing candidates who have cleared the exam and those who are out of service, the SSC types, have been denied admission, as the PG students get a stipend of about Rs 40,000-45,000, which the organisation thinks is a waste to be spent on those not in service."
Ramesh also said that the AFT takes a maximum of six months to decide on any case, which was turning out to be a boon for those in uniform, who earlier had to knock the doors of civil courts and wait for years for justice.
The AFT had earlier rejected the plea of the retired SSC doctors saying they should have gone to a civil court, since they were not in uniform, but now the case has been taken up in AFT of the serving major along with those retired, since its a service matter.
In its year and a half of functioning, the AFT, which began in August, 2009 especially for service personnel has seen an increasing splurge in complaint cases and defence personnel going to court for redressal, mostly pertaining to promotions, pension, annual confidential report matters, postings and court martial challenging cases.
Approximately 10,000 cases were transferred to AFT in 2009 from the various high courts, where they were pending. The maximum cases are in the Chandigarh bench, and out of 8,618 cases, about 50 percent of them having been decided and an equal number still pending.
The cases that have been decided are 4,454 in all the eight benches put together. The principal bench of the AFT is in Delhi, and others are in Kolkata, Chennai, Kochi, Lucknow, Chandigarh, Jaipur and Guwahati.
From figures available till November 2010, the maximum cases are from Chandigarh followed by the Delhi bench.
Chandigarh had 1,614 cases transferred to its bench, from civil courts, when it started working in August, 2009 and had 890 fresh cases filed later, making the total 2,504, of which 1,311 have been decided.
Chandigarh bench covers cases from Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. Delhi had cases transferred from Delhi high court alone, which were 1,392 and fresh 909 cases filed later making it a total of 2,301 till November 2010, from which 1,324 cases have been decided.
An AFT source said that compared to civil courts outside, the AFT takes much less time, and six months is the maximum for any case to be decided. Any case gets decided in as many as four to five hearings.
Retired personnel are mostly the ones who approach the tribunal, which has the status of a high court, for pension matters, or their next of kin, which includes widows fighting for family pension, special pension, battle-disability pension and liberalised family pension.
The Kolkata bench had a total of 259 cases, both fresh and received later, out of which 120 have been decided upon.
Chennai, till November, 2010, had 401 cases of which 319 have been decided, while in Kochi's 500 cases, 218 have been decided. Out of the Lucknow bench's 1,935 cases, 866 have been decided. Jaipur had 276 cases out of which 657 have been decided, and out of Guwahati's 61 cases, 20 have been decided.
High profile cases in the recent past, which have come to light are Lieutenant Colonel P S Purohit, accused of master-minding the Malegaon bomb blast of 2008, who approached the Delhi bench of the AFT against the army's order of his dismissal through court martial, and Kargil war-hero Brigadier Devinder Singh who approached the tribunal as his war records were fudged by his senior.
The AFT provides a judicial forum for redressal of grievances of about a 1.3 million strong armed forces personnel and another 1.2 million ex-servicemen. The decisions of the AFT can be challenged only in the Supreme Court. Each court consists of a judicial member and an administrative member. There are in all 30 members in the 15 courts of the nine AFT benches --15 judicial members including the chairperson, and an equal number of administrative members.