The Armed Forces Tribunal has upheld the conviction and punishment awarded to a Sub Lieutenant of the Navy for stealing money from a course mate.
The officer had initially been sentenced to dismissal from service by a General Court Martial (GCM). His sentence was reduced on appeal by the central government to forfeiture of 18 months’ seniority in the rank of Sub-Lieutenant (equivalent to a Lieutenant in Army).
The officer was commissioned in the Navy in November 2015. After undergoing training onboard INS Tir from December 2015 to June 2016 and after midshipman phase onboard INS Mumbai from August 2016 to December 2016, he underwent sub-courses at INS Valsura, Shivaji, Hamla, Dronacharya and Venduruthy.
While he was at INS Venduruthy, after passing out from Centre for Ethical, Leadership and Behavioural Studies (CELABS) in August 2017, he was attached to INS Venduruthy. There, a month later he had allegedly stolen money from his course mates on different occasions.
The matter was investigated by Commanding Officer, INS Venduruthy and he was charged with eight charges under Section 379 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 read with Section 77(2) of the Navy Act for theft.
Among the charges was that he dishonestly removed Rs 10,000 belonging to another officer from latter’s wallet in his cabin at Officers’ Mess at INS Valsura. Another charge was that he removed Rs 2,000 from an officer’s wallet inside the Ward Room Mess of INS Shivaji.
While the officer pleaded not guilty to all other charges against him, he submitted a written declaration accepting that on August 18, 2017 he did commit theft of Rs 6,000 from a fellow officer’s bag in the classroom at Maritime Warfare Centre, Kochi.
The officer was tried by General Court Martial June 2018, wherein he pleaded ‘guilty’ to one charge and ‘not guilty’ for the remaining seven charges. Though he had given in writing that he would defend himself, in the interest of justice, he was provided with a Defending Officer to defend him during the trial.
After examination of the witnesses, the GCM found the officer guilty of three charges and not guolty of five. In July 2018, he was sentenced “to be dismissed from Naval service and to suffer consequential penalties involved therein”.
The officer filed a petition, under Section 162 of the Navy Act, praying that the findings and sentence passed by the GCM be set aside. The central government disposed of the petition in June 2019 after finding him guilty of one charge and not guilty of two others. The sentence of “dismissal from Naval Service’ was commuted by the central government to that of ‘forfeiture of 18 months’ seniority in the rank of Sub Lieutenant and to suffer consequential penalties involved”.
The counsel for the officer submitted before the AFT that the basic ingredient of the charge of theft — i.e. “dishonest intention’ — has not been proved, which is evident from the fact that he returned the money at his own with a handwritten note the next day and the “action of having taken the money was admitted only with the aim to teach a lesson to the victim in order not to leave money carelessly/ unattended”.
The counsel also contended that lack of dishonest intention is also evident from the fact that the appellant while returning the money gave a handwritten note, which “a guilty mind would not have done so”. He also submitted that the GCM suffered from major infirmities, which vitiated the entire proceedings.
The AFT, however, found that that the claim of the officer that he had taken money to teach the officer a lesson was an afterthought and upheld the conviction and punishment awarded to him.