Army men caught with illegal arms case must be punished
Army Men Caught With Illegal Arms Case Must be Punished. The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed its anguish over top-ranking army officers being let off with minor punishment of \"reprimand\" and small fine for their involvement in illegal sale of weapons and kept its option open to order probe in all army commands.
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed its anguish over top-ranking army officers being let off with minor punishment of "reprimand" and small fine for their involvement in illegal sale of weapons and kept its option open to order probe in all army commands.
Indicating that it may consider a probe of all commands instead of limiting it to south western command from where the racket was unearthed, a bench headed by Justice H L Dattu said punishment awarded to erring officers, some of whom are of the rank of Major, Lt Colonel, Colonel etc are "not commensurate with the gravity of the offence" and "shocks the conscience of the court".
The bench feared that arms, ammunitions and weapons "freely sold in market like toys by the gang involved in it" may have landed in "hands of terrorists" and used for killing innocent people.
The bench, also comprising Justice S A Bobde, said in view of the "seriousness" and "gravity of the situation", Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi should seek instructions from the government and respond as to "why not the scope of the writ petition be enlarged to hold inquiry in all the commands and why not the punishment awarded be set aside and court of inquiry be considered afresh for enhancing it".
The bench, which sought the answers in 15 days and posted the hearing for September 16, perused the materials and documents, some of them in sealed envelope, placed before it and said "punishment has been pittance" and "just an eyewash".
"We are not satisfied with the punishment. Punishment is not commensurate with the gravity of the offence," the bench said and added that "there have been cases that this court has not interfered with the punishment of removal to cadets or constables for drunken brawl keeping in view the discipline to be maintained".
The bench noted that what has emerged from the probe in the Ganganagar district of Rajasthan, where the army unit is under the south western command, is the "tip of the iceberg".
"Army officers are selling weapons. He is trained at the cost of tax payers money. He is trained to save citizens but what sort of officers they are," the bench observed noting that "it is also not clear how many weapons they have sold".
When the bench was told that action has been taken by reprimanding, forfeiting years of service and imposing fines which in some cases was of Rs 500, the bench asked the
Attorney General to look into the seriousness of the offence involving high ranking officers.
The bench was hearing a PIL filed in 2007 alleging that a racket was being run by some army officers and bureaucrats by illegally procuring and selling Non Standard Pattern (NSP) Weapons which are sold from the Central Ordnance Depot Jabalpur.
The court was told that any serving or retired officer can purchase only one weapon but reports suggested that one officer appeared to have availed the facility in his name for 17 times.
Rajasthan Government told the court that in 15 cases charge sheets have been filed.
The apex court earlier also had questioned the government as to why it was allowing some army officers to continue in service despite they being allegedly involved in illegal sale of weapons.
The bench had also observed that some high ranking army officers allegedly involved in the racket were still serving in the army and "running an industry".
During the earlier hearing, the Centre had said that civilian courts have limited scope to interfere in these type of cases which are proceeded under the Army Act and are dealt through court of inquiry, General Court Martial and matters are adjudicated in the Armed Forces Tribunal.
The Centre in an earlier hearing had told the apex court that 73 army officials of various ranks have been punished with disciplinary action for illegal sale of weapons and issuance of licences to dubious persons and the punishment ranged from censure, demotions and witholding of increments.
The Centre and the Rajasthan government had placed before the court the status report vis-a-vis the inquiry so far conducted into the allegations.
The court was hearing a PIL filed by advocate Arvind Kumar Sharma seeking direction to the government for taking action against its officers after the NSP weapon scam came to light in 2007 when authorities in Rajasthan's Ganganagar district noticed that several licences were issued to dubious persons, including terrorists, smugglers and rowdy elements by local authorities without verification.
Subsequent probe by the government revealed a larger racket in which several Army officers, including the ones of major general rank, along with IAS and the Rajasthan civil service officers too were found involved in the sale of non-service pattern arms to dubious elements.
For their personal use, the army personnel are issued weapons, known as non-service pattern weapons, from ordnance depots.
In its report submitted earlier, the state government had said that there were around 284 beneficiaries in the scam and they were being interrogated.
The Defence Ministry had also told the court that it has decided to review the procedures for issuing non-service pattern weapons to army personnel after finding that they were illegally sold to unscrupulous elements.