In a strength of 36 that included several ace miltary sleuths, there was only one clerical staff deputed to the now-disbanded Technical Services Division (TSD) — a young Havaldar by the name of Sham Das D. He was privy to all the secrets of the unit, such as disbursement of secret service funds and the logistics of the mounting of sensitive counter-intelligence operations.
Thus, there was shock and consternation when, in May 2012, the Military Intelligence was informed that Sham Das had been intercepted by a team of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence in Kochi as he was allegedly trading in classified information on the TSD.
A TSD team was rushed to Kochi to join the probe, and a CD in which all the data pertaining to the raising, funding and staffing of the TSD was recovered, to become the crucial piece of evidence against him. While a list of what was contained in the CD became part of subsequent legal record (see picture), its precise contents are known only to the Military Intelligence and, probably, the Intelligence Bureau (IB).
Sham Das was put in confinement and, for three years thereafter, the alleged espionage case was the subject, first of a Court of Inquiry, then a Summary of Evidence and finally, a Court Martial trial as per Army regulations. In May this year, the verdict of the general court martial was confirmed, and he was given 10 years’ imprisonment, from which the three years he spent in detention were to be adjusted.
The jail term for Sham Das brings back focus on whether any action would be taken against other senior staffers of the controversial special unit which was set up under instructions of the former Army Chief, General V K Singh. The head of the unit, Colonel Hunny Bakshi, had written to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar in March to say that all information on the TSD and its operations, as well as the contents of the inquiry by Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia, should be kept secret. Thus, even while proceedings against Sham Das were on, moves were afoot at a high level to control the fallout of the case.
The unit head wrote, “No one has seen the individual (Sham Das) commit the act of omission and commission and the whole case is on hearsay. The Army in its exuberance will punish him, but the individual will definitely move superior courts, where the evidence, that is, the CDs, will again be brought in for inspection of the courts and civilian lawyers.”
With Sham Das in Tihar Jail, his lawyers are indeed preparing for another legal battle. The TSD official’s lawyer, Anand Kumar, told The Indian Express that he has filed an appeal before the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) demanding that the contents of the GCM, excluding the “exhibits” like the CD, be immediately shared with his client.
He said, “The stand taken by the government in Parliament and by the Army during the GCM is that even the contents of the CD that Sham Das is alleged to have sold are highly sensitive and that the CD has not even been scanned by the Presiding Officer. If the contents are not known to anyone, how has Sham Das been sent to prison for 10 years because of it?”
The lawyer also said: “I have cross-questioned TSD officials, including Colonel Hunny Bakshi who was a prosecution witness, on how the original CD recovered from Sham Das was tampered with, and some 20 files allegedly effaced. This is evident from copies of confidential indexes which are part of the GCM records. I have also questioned them on the destruction by burning of documents of the TSD. Once the GCM record comes to us, all this will be known.”
It is to be recalled that four months ago — after the imprisonment order — Sham Das had also filed a criminal appeal in the Supreme Court challenging the jurisdiction of the GCM to try him, but the apex court had refused to hear the case and asked his lawyers to file appeals in the AFT.
With The Hindu this week reporting the destruction of TSD records even before the Army’s judicial proceedings against Sham Das began in earnest, it remains to be seen if the GCM records are given to him, or withheld forever.