New Delhi : The Supreme Court on Tuesday pulled up the NDA government for letting off lightly Army officers involved in illegal arms sales. In question were errant officers who were fined just Rs 500 or given a simple reprimand in a court of inquiry instituted by the Army.
Stating that such a punishment is a “pittance” and “eyewash” and hardly commensurate with the crime, the Apex Court asked Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, who was representing the government: “For a drunken brawl, you dismiss a cadet from service. But here colonels, brigadiers and generals are involved. Where is the discipline?” The bench added in anguish that the case had shocked its “conscience.” It was hearing a petition which had alleged that serving and retired Army officers of the South Western Command were involved in illegal sales of arms.
The court has sought the government’s reply on the issue in two weeks, fixing September 15 for the next hearing. It has also sought the status of such cases in the other eight commands of the Army.
The petitioner pointed out that every army officer is entitled to one NSP (Non Service Pattern) weapon. However, he cited certain cases where officers were involved in the sale of multiple weapons. Also, as per rules, the petition pointed out, the Central Ordnance Depot at Jabalpur has to be intimated and permission sought from it before the sale of any weapon acquired by an army personnel.
The case dates back to 2012 when the Army had let off its 73 officers caught selling their weapons illegally in Rajasthan. Those censured or fined in the case included Colonels, Lieutenant Colonels and Majors.
One of the officers, Lt Col V S Rathore, sold 17 weapons, Lt Col B S Shekhawat 11, and Col. Neeraj Rana 5. On being indicted, they received a “severe reprimand” and had to forfeit service and related benefits for three, two and one year, respectively. In the case of other officers accused of selling their personal NSP weapons in open market, 26 were reprimanded and fined Rs 500 each while 11 others were let off with the court of inquiry voicing “severe displeasure.”
In the eyes of the Defence Ministry, apparently, it is no big crime if an Army personnel transfers weapons without authorization.
The Bench, concerned at the scale of the gun-running, voiced fears that arms, ammunitions and weapons “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.