INTRODUCTION:

Punjab and Haryana high court has upheld the policy decision of the Army authorities to allot all shops located in regimental centres and military stations to war widows, disabled soldiers, ex-servicemen and spouses/widows of ex-servicemen. Earlier, civilians were allowed to run shops inside military areas on lease to sell products to soldiers’ families.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice Ravi Shanker Jha and Justice Arun Palli passed these orders recently while dismissing several petitions filed by Rajender Prasad Aggarwal and others. The petitioners had challenged the notification dated January 17, 2018, issued by the central government under which shops inside Chandimandir military station in Panchkula were reserved for members of the defence fraternity.

HC UPHOLDS ARMY POLICY ON SHOPS IN CHANDIMANDIR
HC UPHOLDS ARMY POLICY ON SHOPS IN CHANDIMANDIR

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FACTS OF THE CASE:

“It is evident that the shops in question are situated in the military station and that the authorities, with a view to provide support to war widows/widows of defence personnel killed and related categories, have taken a policy decision to reserve 100% regimental shops for allotment to the aforesaid categories. The object and purpose of the notification is laudable,” the bench observed.
The HC was of the view that the categories for which the benefit is provided is required to be given the same by the Army establishment and therefore, the decision is in furtherance of the object sought to be achieved.

Rejecting the contentions of petitioners that depriving them from running these shops is an infringement of their fundamental rights, the HC observed that such arguments are patently misconceived. The court held that the Union government’s decision does not deprive or deny petitioners from doing business or earning livelihood but only provides that regimental shops situated in the military station would be reserved 100% only for the specific categories.

The shops are constructed out of “public fund, non-public fund or re-appropriation of government buildings on A-1 defence land” and cater exclusively to military personnel and their families. Available information suggests the policy initially issued by the ministry concerned way back in 1972 was intended to ensure that rehabilitation opportunities for ex-servicemen were not exploited for commercial opportunity to earn revenue.

Though regimental shops have been set up in military areas, the petitioners before the High Court were allotted shops in “Chakra Suvidha Complex” at the Chandimandir military station in Panchkula.

Initially, the petitioners were granted lease for a year but the shops were given on licence 2015 onwards. The licence period and extensions expired on November 30, 2018. Subsequently, the respondents vide notification/order dated January 17, 2018, took a policy decision to allot all shops in the regimental centres/stations to war widows/widows of defence personnel killed while on duty/disabled soldier/ex-servicemen and spouses/widows of ex-Servicemen. The petitioners too were directed to vacate the shops, following which they moved the High Court.

Appearing before the Bench of Chief Justice Ravi Shanker Jha and Justice Arun Palli, Additional Solicitor-General of India Satya Pal Jain said the number of causalities in the armed forces in recent times had increased. As such, the respondents formed the policy. He said the decision taken with a view to achieve the specific object was in accordance with the constitutional mandate.

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LAW IN QUESTION:

ACCORDING TO ARTICLE 14 – FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS:

Additional Solicitor General of India Satya Pal Jain, on behalf of the Centre, had argued that the petitioners have no fundamental right to apply for the shops as they are located within the military area and meant only for soldiers or their families and not for the public at large. It was also contended by Jain that the number of casualties on the border in the recent past have increased and therefore there is a need for rehabilitation of the families of Army men.

The Delhi High Court had in July 2019 upheld the same policy and ruled that the object of such policy is to rehabilitate ex-servicemen and their families who are in need of such welfare measures and “this is precisely the object of opening family facilities by defence establishments”. It was also noted that the regimental shops are constructed by regimental funds and belong to the establishment concerned of the Armed Forces.

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MY OPINION OR VIEWS:

According to me, the shops are constructed out of “public fund, non-public fund or re-appropriation of government buildings on A-1 defence land” and cater exclusively to military personnel and their families. Available information suggests the policy initially issued by the ministry concerned way back in 1972 was intended to ensure that rehabilitation opportunities for ex-servicemen were not exploited for commercial opportunity to earn revenue.

Though regimental shops have been set up in military areas, the petitioners before the High Court were allotted shops in “Chakra Suvidha Complex” at the Chandimandir military station in Panchkula.

The decision taken with a view to achieve the specific object was in accordance with the constitutional mandate.

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CONCLUSION:

The court had in 2019 restrained the authorities from taking any coercive action against the petitioners in view of a similar stay granted by the Delhi & Madhya Pradesh HCs in cases filed there. The petitioners here were allottees of shops in question under the earlier policy, which provided for a reservation of only 30 per cent for defence personnel, i.e. war widow & others. A detailed order wasn’t immediately available on Monday.

Additional Solicitor General of India Satya Pal Jain, on behalf of the Centre, had argued that the petitioners have no fundamental right to apply for the shops as they are located within the military area & meant only for soldiers or their families & not for the public at large. It was also contended by Jain that the number of casualties on the border in the recent past have increased & therefore there is a need for rehabilitation of the families of Armymen.

The Delhi HC had in July 2019 upheld the same policy & ruled that the object of such policy is to rehabilitate ex-servicemen & their families who are in need of such welfare measures & “this is precisely the object of opening family facilities by defence establishments”. It was also noted that the regimental shops are constructed by regimental funds & belong to the establishment concerned of the Armed Forces.

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For case specific advice, please contact best/top/expert High Court Chandigarh AFT (Armed Forces Tribunal) Lawyer Advocate in Chandigarh Panchkula Mohali Kharar Baltana Derabassi Zirakpur (Punjab Haryana).

This post is written by VISHISHTA MISHRA.

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