In a major move with far reaching consequences on litigation involving soldiers and other defence employees, the Defence Minister has accepted the recommendation of an expert panel wherein it was provided that further appeals would not be filed by the Ministry of Defence on all subjects which have attained finality at the High Courts or Supreme Court.
The Committee comprising former Adjutant General Lt Gen Mukesh Sabharwal (retd), former Military Secretary Lt Gen Richard Khare (retd), Punjab and Haryana High Court Lawyer Maj Navdeep Singh, former Judge Advocate General (JAG) Maj Gen T Parshad and Kargil disabled veteran Maj DP Singh had strongly deprecated the tendency of the Defence Ministry, long known to be a chronic litigant, of filing individual appeals against court and tribunal decisions in favour of employees on the pretext of the judgements being ‘against government policy’.
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The committee had noted that an unexplained urge was being shown by government officers to litigate who wanted to file multiple cases even where the law had already been settled, with a hope that in some odd stray case, a judgement would be rendered against an employee which could then be flaunted to deny benefits to similarly placed employees.
The committee had noted that the ego and prestige based approach reflected how officers dealing with the subject were unable to come to terms that cases had been decided against their stand. The panel had stated that there should be ‘quietus’ on issues which have attained finality at the HC or SC.
Accepting the recommendation, the Defence Minister is also learnt to have approved another related suggestion which additionally covers civilian employees wherein noting that the effort of the system was to wear down employees by filing multiple appeals, the panel had recommended that the government should gracefully accept court verdicts as far as possible and appeals should be an exception and not the rule.
Challenges of tribunal orders will be made in the HC only in exceptional cases and appeals undertaken in the Supreme Court restricted to the rarest of rare cases. The Committee had noted that the culture of appealing must cease and officers should ‘concentrate upon improving governance and administration rather than waging a litigative war against their own junior employees who have limited means’.
In its strongly worded observations, the committee had also noted that the official establishment was indulging in litigation of ‘luxury’ and that litigation should not be treated as a war or a sport which must be won at all costs. The panel had expressed surprise that instead of focussing on reducing appeals and faster implementation of orders as propounded by the Defence Minister, certain officers had presented views during their depositions on ways and means to file “faster appeals” which ran counter to the very intentions of the government.
When contacted, Maj Navdeep Singh, who was a member of the Committee, called it a “much needed reform” but cautioned that the “political executive must ensure its implementation in letter and spirit and must not allow the legal-official ecosystem to hold political will to ransom”.