Expressing concern over the open sale of army apparel and gear, the Delhi High Court today pulled up the Centre for not taking the issue seriously and asked the Delhi government to take steps to curb the sale and manufacture of such items. The bench said the Centre does not seem to be interested in doing anything despite seriousness of the issue which has its implications on “state security and public safety”.
The court made the observations in the backdrop of recent terror strikes, including the one of the Pathankot airforce base in January 2016 by terrorists dressed in Indian Army fatigues, leading to the death of seven security personnel including a Lieutenant Colonel and a civilian.
In November 2016 too, terrorists dressed in police uniform had attacked the army’s XVI Corps headquarters at Nagrota in Jammu district, killing seven security personnel including two officers. A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and C Hari Shankar directed the Delhi government to take immediate steps to curb private manufacturing, stocking and sale of military apparel and gear used by the armed forces.
It asked the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to forthwith take action to comply with several government communications in this regard, dating back to 1986-99. The court directed the authorities to file a report in this regard in eight weeks, noting that despite there being a penal provision to punish those wearing or carrying tokens used by soldiers, not a single action has been taken.
The bench passed the order while deciding the plea of an NGO, which had raised the issue citing the terror attacks and submitted that private sale of military apparel and gear was a cause for concern.
Advocate K R Chitra, appearing for NGO Fight for Human Rights, had told the court that after the Pathankot incident, the petition was filed and a subsequent representation was made before the competent authority, but no action was taken. During the day’s hearing, after perusing the response of MoD, the bench said the matter was of a serious nature and despite earlier orders, it has not been taken up seriously.
The Centre’s counsel submitted that they have asked the states to take this issue seriously. The court on July 20, 2016, had asked the ministry to treat the issue raised as a representation and take a decision in three months. The counsel said that subsequent to the July 20 order, she had again made a representation to the government but there was no response. Hence, she has again moved the court.
She said that a January 8, 2016, notification issued by the Indian Army, prohibits civilians and private shopkeepers from wearing or selling military apparel and gear.
The NGO had sought steps to curb private sale and manufacture of military apparel like uniforms, shoes, badges and other gear used by the armed forces which were being made by private industries in Ludhiana and Amritsar in Punjab and sold all over the country. One place where such articles are sold is at the Railway Market at Pathankot, it had claimed.
The PIL had also sought that MoD be directed to handle with immediate effect the responsibility of manufacturing, stocking and sale of military apparel and gear used by the armed forces, saying private shops do not check to whom they sell such articles.