'Litigants in Kashmir face problems for want of CAT Bench in Srinagar'

Observing that litigants from Kashmir region are facing problems in pursuing cases at Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) Jammu, the J&K High Court has hoped that difficulties in setting up a Bench of the Tribunal at Srinagar will be removed expeditiously.

“This Court can only hope and trust that all the difficulties/encumbrances that may be there, on administrative side, in the process of establishment of the Bench of the Central Administrative Tribunal at Srinagar are removed as expeditiously as possible keeping in view the difficulties being faced by the litigants belonging to the Kashmir region in pursuing their cases before the Central Administrative Tribunal, Jammu Bench,” a division Bench of justice Ali Muhammad Magrey and justice Vinod Chatterji Koul said.

The Bench made the observation while dismissing an appeal filed against its single Bench order transferring a service matter to the CAT Jammu Bench.

During the course of the arguments, a senior advocate representing the appellant submitted before the court that non-availability of the Bench of CAT at Srinagar is tantamount to denial of justice to the litigants belonging to the Kashmir region in view of the judgment rendered by the Supreme Court in Rojer Mathew’s case.

In response to the submission, the Court held that the Central Government has already issued notification under Sub-Section 7 of Section 5 of the Act of 1985 way back on 28 May, 2020, specifying Jammu and Srinagar as the places at which the Benches of the CAT would ordinarily sit for the UTs of J&K and Ladakh.

In pursuance thereof, the Court said, the Bench of the CAT started holding sittings at Jammu from 8 June hearing the cases not only pertaining to the litigants of Jammu, but also the ones belonging to Kashmir as well as Ladakh region for the time being.

“This arrangement of hearing of the cases pertaining to the litigants of Kashmir region, as would come to limelight from the stand taken by both the Central Administrative Tribunal as well as the Government of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, is temporary in nature and the proposal to establish a permanent Bench of the Central Administrative Tribunal at Srinagar in under active consideration of the authorities concerned,” the court said.

The Court held that during the course of arguments, both the Advocate General as well as the Senior Central Government Standing Counsel have indicated that the reasons for the delay in the establishment of the Bench of the CAT at Srinagar are purely administrative in nature, with respect to which the Court cannot issue any specific directions to the concerned authorities.

The Court held that the apex court  in Rojer Mathew’s case  has already observed that having Tribunals without Benches in at least the capitals of States and Union Territories amounts to denial of justice to citizens of those States and UTs which makes the entire justice delivery system very “metropolis centric” having many adverse effects.

The court while dismissing the appeal held that in terms of the mandate of Section 14 of the Act of 1985, it is the CAT which has the jurisdiction “as a Court of first instance” to exercise all the jurisdiction, powers and authority vis-à-vis the petition filed by appellant before the Single Judge, which were exercisable by this Court prior to the appointed day.

Citing the law enunciated by the Supreme Court, the Court said: “it becomes axiomatic that the Tribunals set up under the Act of 1985 have been tasked to act as the only courts of first instance in respect of areas of law for which they have been constituted and the litigants have been restrained to directly approach the High Court”.