Expressing apprehension that weapons sold illegally by Army officers may also be used by terrorists, the Supreme Court Tuesday reproached the Centre and the Army for handing out “pittance” in punishment to those held guilty and decided to contemplate an inquiry across all nine Army Commands for such offences.
A bench of Justices H L Dattu and S A Bobde was surprised to know that some of the very senior officers were let off with a mere “reprimand” or a “Rs 500 fine” after the court martial proceedings, which the court said were nothing but an “eyewash”.
While underscoring that it may also consider quashing all such court martial proceedings and order retrial, the bench sought a categorical reply from Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi in 15 days as to why all orders of the Army should not be quashed since they were inadequate.
“We are not satisfied with the punishment. Punishment is not commensurate with the gravity of the offence. For a drunken brawl, you dismiss a cadet from service and this court has not interfered with such orders keeping in view the discipline to be maintained. But here Colonels, Brigadiers and Generals are involved. Where is the discipline?” questioned the bench.
It raised apprehension that the arms “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.
“This shocks the conscience of the court. Army officers are selling weapons. They are trained at the cost of tax payers’ money. They are trained to save citizens but what sort of officers they are?” it said, adding that the number of weapons sold in the illegal manner was also not clear.
The court was hearing a PIL filed in 2007 alleging that a racket was being run by some Army officers of the South Western Command and bureaucrats by illegally procuring and selling Non Standard Pattern (NSP) weapons which are sold from the Central Ordnance Depot, Jabalpur. Army officers are issued weapons under NSP category for their personal uses. Although only one weapon can be issued to a serving or a retired Army personnel, some of the erring officers had used this facility for multiple times.
The illegalities had come to light in 2007 when authorities in Rajasthan’s Ganganagar district had noticed that several licences for holding weapons were issued to dubious persons, including terrorists, smugglers and rowdy elements by local authorities without verification. Most of these weapons were subsequently found to be those issued by the personnel under the NSP category.
While the Army has cited the court martial proceedings in its defence, the Centre has 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 appeals in the Armed Forces Tribunal.