Former Army Chief Gen V K Singh and four top serving officers were on Friday summoned as accused by a Delhi court which held that it has sufficient material to proceed against them in a criminal defamation case filed by Lt Gen (retd) Tejinder Singh.
This is the first time that an ex-Army Chief and top ranking officers including the Vice Chief have been asked to appear before a court.
Besides Gen V K Singh,the other four named in the complaint and have been summoned are Vice Chief of Army Staff S K Singh,Lt Gen B S Thakur (DGMI),Major General S L Narshiman (Additional Director General of Public Information) and Lt Col Hitten Sawhney,accusing them of misusing their official positions,power and authority to level false charges against him.
The court directed them to appear before it on July 20. Metropolitan Magistrate Jay Thareja said all the five have been summoned as accused in the present matter. In his three-page order,the Magistrate said complicity of Gen V K Singh in the issuance of March 5 press release,in which Tejinder Singh was accused of offering Rs.14 crore as bribe to the Army Chief for clearing a deal for 600 trucks,was prima facie deductible.
After deliberating upon the submissions made by advocate (for Tejinder Singh),perusing the evidence/material brought on record during the inquiry under Section 202 of the CrPC and studying the law,I find that now this court has sufficient material to proceed against all the respondents, the magistrate said.
The court,however,said the summons are only for the alleged offence of defamation as the allegation of hatching a criminal conspiracy appears to be absurd.
If the defamation charge is proved,it entails a maximum punishment of two years,or fine,or both.
The former army chief and other officers now have the option of either appearing before the magistrate or challenging the summons before the sessions judge or the Delhi High Court.
When contacted,the Defence Ministry and Army authorities refrained from commenting on the issue as the matter was subjudice,while Gen (retd) Singh was unavailable for comments.
Tejinder Singh outside the courtroom,said,It is a sad event that the ex-Army Chief and other top serving officials of the Army are being summoned in a defamation case. It is sad for me also as I am a part of Army. They did something wrong and law has finally caught up with them, he said.
The magistrate said the defamatory information about the alleged bribe offer could not have been passed on to other co-accused if the then Army chief would not have told them about it.
The complicity of respondent number 1 (V K Singh) in the publication of the press release dated March 5,2012 is prima facie deducible from the fact that he alone had knowledge about the offer of bribe made by the complainant and without him having told the respondents number 4 and 5 (Narshiman and Sawhney) or any other person about the offer of bribe made by the complainant,the defamatory information about the complainant offering a bribe would not have percolated down to the respondents no 4 and 5, the court said.
It also referred to the May 4,2012 letter issued by under secretary of the Ministry of Defence in which it was mentioned that the March 5 press release was issued with the approval from the highest levels in the army.
The complicity of respondent number 1 (V K Singh) is also prima facie deducible from the use of the words highest levels in the army in the letter dated May 4,2012,issued by R Sunder (under secretary of Ministry of Defence) and from the testimony of complainant that communications like the press release dated march 5,2012 are issued following approval by a hierarchy,comprising the Chief of Army Staff (V K Singh),Vice Chief of the Indian Army (S K Singh),the head of Military Intelligence (B S Thakur),head of Public Information (Narshiman) and his subordinates (Sawhney), the court said.
The court,however,made it clear that the accused were not being summoned on charges of criminal conspiracy leveled by Tejinder Singh.
Upon appreciating the entire evidence and material produced before this court,the allegation regarding hatching of a criminal conspiracy by respondents appears to be absurd and without any foundation.
The accused are only being summoned qua offence as described under section 499 (defamation) read with section 35 (act done with criminal knowledge or intention) of the IPC, the Magistrate said.
Tejinder Singh had filed the complaint alleging that he was defamed by the Army through its press release issued on March 5,which accused him of offering a bribe to the erstwhile Army chief.
The court directed Tejinder Singh to file a process fee along with copies of the complaint and documents within one week of the re-opening of the court on June 21.
Upon filing of the process fee,copies of the complaints and the documents,the accused shall be summoned for July 20, the court said.
The court had earlier directed the Defence Ministry to place before it the file related to the issuance of the March 5 press release to ascertain whether or not,the five persons accused of defaming Tejinder Singh had any role in it.
The press release also blamed Tejinder Singh,former chief of the Defence Intelligence Agency,and some disgruntled serving officers of the Military Intelligence for planting story in the media relating to purported tapping of some sensisitive phones in the capital. The file pertaining to the press release was submitted to the court by Defence Ministrys Under Secretary R Sunder. The court had also recorded his statement during an in-camera proceeding in which he said some of the documents placed were privileged.