New Delhi, Jun 13: A military court has quashed the jail term and dismissal from service of a Lieutenant Colonel who was awarded the punishment by a General Court Martial for allegedly selling parts of tank ammunition worth over Rs 41 lakhs in the civilian market.
The case is related to an Army Ordnance Corps officer Lt Col S Chandra who was given a seven-year jail term and was dismissed from service by a General Court Martial after parts of tank ammunition were sold in the civilian market from Army ordnance depot near Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh.
The Armed Forces Tribunal also came down heavily on the army authorities for not holding any court of inquiry or an investigation into the matter in which the officer was solely held responsible for the sale of equipment to the civilians and no efforts were made to even trace the sold-out ammunition or the civilians to whom it was sold.
"The court of inquiry was a must but no court of inquiry was ordered and without collecting any evidence, entire liability was fixed on the Lt Col who was primarily an officer not part of the strength of the depot," said the tribunal bench headed by Justice SVS Rathore and Air Marshal BBP Sinha.
The sale of the ammunition in the civilian market took place in the second and third week of November when according to the judgment, the commandant of the ordnance depot Brigadier Giriraj Singh went to Kolkata on temporary duty while the lady officer-in-charge of the ammunition was sent on some work.
The court also questioned the army that when the allegation against the officer was that he had connived with several others to commit the offence, why only he was held responsible and others let off without any probe."During arguments when we put the question to respondents that when several persons were involved in the matter then how only the applicant was picked up and why other persons in walled in the conspiracy were left out by them," the court said.
The court stated that when the allegation against the Lt Col was that he sold the unserviceable ammunition to some civilian which was worth more than Rs 41.26 lacks, then why "no effort was made to trace out the said civilian or to recover the sold Amy property."The court agreed with the contention of the Lt Col that the court of inquiry was not done deliberately to hush up the matter against the higher ups in the force.
"The civilian would have been the best person to disclose as to who contacted him for the sale of such property and how much money was paid to him by whom and who was the real culprit. We find substance in the submission of the defence counsel that it was deliberately not done just to hush up the matter against the higher-ups," it said.
The court said that not holding any court of inquiry adversely affected the defence of Lieutenant-Colonel S Chandra because the investigation and court of enquiry would have brought on record the true facts and the applicant would have been able to defend himself in better way or he might not be found guilty.
The court also agreed with the Lt Col's apprehension that the chain of incident showed that there was a pre-planned conspiracy to get him implicated in the case at higher level as he was from a different unit and not part of the officers posted to work at the depot.
The court said when the incident was brought to the notice of the Commandant Brig Giriraj Singh by other officers he avoided ordering a court of inquiry into the matter. Brig Giriraj Singh retired as a Lieutenant General recently and was head of a General Court Martial involving a Maj Gen over molestation charges.Keeping these considerations in mind, the tribunal allowed the plea of Lt Col S Chandra saying "the findings of GCM and punishment awarded deserves to be set aside conviction and punishment of the officer for all the charges against him is hereby set aside".
The court ordered that since the conviction of the officer has been set aside, his service has to be restored accordingly and he shall be reinstated forthwith with the rank which he was holding at the time of his punishment in 2014 with all consequential benefits.
Commenting on the case, military law expert and lawyer Maj SS Pandey said, "This was an unprecedented case where there was complete veil of secrecy and everything managed to hush up the matter and find a scapegoat to the extent of not ordering a court of inquiry when in case of loss of stores court of inquiry has to be mandatory."He said that the government should order a CBI inquiry to investigate the matter because it is a serious case where ammunition was sold to be destroyed but ultimately went to civilians which could have gone anywhere.