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Posted at: Jan 14, 2018, 12:01 AM; last updated: Jan 14, 2018, 12:01 AM (IST)

AFT wants effective legal-aid mechanism for ex-servicemen

Vijay Mohan in Chandigarh

Vijay Mohan in Chandigarh

THE Armed Forces Tribunal is unhappy over the way grievances about disability pension are addressed. In a recent judgment, the AFT has conveyed its concern to the ministry of defence and the service headquarters. It wants an effective policy to reach out to ex-servicemen and their families and a mechanism for legal aid and improved accessibility to judicial redress.

The AFT has pointed out that the appellate authorities have been dismissing in a routine manner the applications about such grievances for first and second appeal. This is despite the internal mechanism, it said. A larger bench of the tribunal comprising its chairperson, Justice Virender Singh, Justice SVS Rathore and Lt Gen SK Singh, hoped that when the issues have been settled by the apex court, the ministry and the services would dispose of most of such cases, rather than force the applicants to approach the tribunal.

Ex-servicemen have been miffed over long legal battles over their rightful pension dues. There are about 15,000 cases pending before the tribunal, high courts and the Supreme Court. Legal experts say with the establishment of the AFT, the pendency of cases has gone up. The Tribunal has 17 benches in nine cities and some of them are non-functional. Given the retirement schedule of present members and delay in fresh appointments, only seven out of the authorized 17 judicial members and seven out of 17 administrative members will remain by March. The Principal Bench in Delhi is functioning with just one out of its three benches and by March not even a single regular bench will be available.

In 1987, a formal mechanism at the national, state and district level was put in place for implementing, administering and regulating legal aid in India. The Legal Services Authorities Act came into being in 1995 laying down the criteria and entitlement for grant of benefit of legal-aid. It even provides an inclusive list of eight categories of people for the same, including an “industrial worker” (Section 12-f) as well as a person with a disability as defined under the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act (Section 12-g). The Act does not specifically include within its scope and ambit ex-servicemen and their families for grant of legal aid.

There are a large number of ex-Servicemen and their dependants who are unable get their wrongs redressed. The AFT, created to specifically cater to the needs for them, also remains inaccessible to many due to a variety of reasons, including lack of awareness. 

“It is, therefore, imperative to initiate a mechanism for improved accessibility to judicial redress for ex-Servicemen, particularly disabled soldiers, and their families, through legal-aid under the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987, the same being also in consonance with Article 39-A of the Constitution. A formal method to bring ex-servicemen and their dependent members within the ambit of Section 12 of the Act, by way of an amendment, is crucial,” the Bench said.

The need for such a mechanism has felt time and again. In 2001, the government had issued a formal press statement. “In this connection, Section 12 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 is proposed to be amended to include in the category of armed forces, ex-members of paramilitary forces and the dependents of those who died on duty or in a war or insurgency.”

Among measures suggested to implement legal aid for ex-servicemen is one of forming permanent and regular legal-aid by utilizing assistance of trained paralegal personnel at the district level for those who are unable to access courts. This would also be of much assistance in cases which are already covered by earlier judgments.

The population of ex-servicemen is almost double that of the serving fraternity. Many of them live in remote areas and are unaware of their legal rights. 

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