The Supreme Court takes umbrage to a junior officer filing an affidavit on behalf of the Defence Ministry over involvement of army and civilian officers in the illegal sale of arms
Dubbing as "very serious" the alleged involvement of army and civilian officers in the illegal sale of arms, the Supreme Court, Friday, took umbrage to a junior officer filing an affidavit on behalf of the Defence Ministry, which was asked to submit it afresh.
"Is the Ministry of Defence shirking to file an affidavit in the matter," a Bench comprising Justices B Sudershan Reddy and S S Nijjar said and wondered whether the weapons have landed in the hands of "dacoits". The Bench was anguished that the affidavit on behalf of the Ministry of Defence was filed by an army officer of the rank of Captain.
"On such a serious issue how can an officer of the rank of Captain file an affidavit on behalf of the Ministry of Defence," the Bench asked adding there was a need to maintain some "decorum" and a higher authority should have filed the affidavit. "It is a very serious matter. Where are those weapons? Are those in the hands of dacoits?" the Bench said while expressing its disappointment over the manner in which government handled the entire issue.
SC not satisfied with affidavit
"We are not satisfied with the affidavit filed on behalf of the Ministry of Defence. Accordingly, a proper affidavit has to be filed by the ministry," the Bench said and granted four weeks to the Centre to file a fresh affidavit.
The Bench said only after going through a proper affidavit, would it pass any directions on the PIL filed by advocate Arvind Kumar Sharma who has sought an inquiry either by the CBI or a former judge of the Supreme Court into the alleged racket involving illegal sale of arms and issuance of licenses.
At the outset, Sharma claimed that the affidavit by the Centre was a total "eyewash" as it has not named any senior officers of the rank of Brigadier and Major General, who were allegedly part of the racket.
Additional Solicitor General Vivek Tankha described the issue as "serious" but maintained that the PIL was for publicity which evoked strong protest from Sharma, who said he has raised an issue of national security while the government preferred to file an affidavit through a junior army officer.
At this point, the Bench questioned, "How an army officer can file an affidavit on behalf of the Ministry of Defence? "We cannot go by this affidavit," the bench said and raised objection that in the affidavit it was mentioned that 40 officers sold their weapons but it was also stated that only four top-ranking officials were allegedly involved in the racket of illegal selling of weapons.
Arms sold illegaly to gun houses
The affidavit filed by the Defence Ministry had stated that four top-ranking officials of the army procured weapons supplied to their colleagues and illegally sold them to arms dealers, gun houses and civilians. Forty others officers sold their own weapons and 25 others were found in possession of ammunition in excess to their entitlement, it had said.
The Ministry had stated that the three serving Lieutenant Colonels and a Colonel posted in Rajasthan were allegedly part of the racket and they coordinated procurement of non-service pattern weapons from army officials and sold them. Under the Army Rules, sale of NSP weapons is strictly prohibited. Besides the service weapon, every officer is entitled to keep a single NSP weapon, which has to be either returned on retirement or permission has to be taken if he chooses to retain it.
With disciplinary proceedings on against four officers, the MoD had said in the affidavit that it was looking into the issue throughout the country. A report prepared by a Court of Inquiry ordered by Headquarters of South Western Command has detailed a list of 72 high-ranking army officials across the country, who sold their NSP weapons in violation of the Army Order and the Army Act 1959.
Army initiated action against 10 officials
Based on this, the Army initiated disciplinary proceedings against all, except 10 officials, who have retired, and four serving officials who managed to retrieve their weapons. The list also includes 25 officers, who were posted at Indian Army Training Team, Bhutan, and possessed imported ammunition (50 rounds) in excess of their authorisation.
According to the PIL, the scam came to light in 2007 after authorities in Rajasthan's Ganganagar district noticed that several licenses were issued to dubious persons, including terrorists, smugglers and rowdy elements by local authorities without verification.
Subsequent investigations by the government revealed a larger racket in which several army officials, including some holding the rank of major generals, IAS officers and those belonging to Rajasthan State Service, were allegedly involved in the sale of arms to dubious elements.