Lieutenant General Avadesh Prakash, who is facing a court martial in connection with the Sukna land scam, has alleged that Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor had not applied his mind before changing his decision to initiate proceedings against him. He also said the fresh court of inquiry ordered by the Armed Forces Tribunal would help bring out new facts and clear his role in the entire case.
"That is right," Prakash told Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN's Devil's Advocate programme, when he was asked whether General Kapoor had not applied his mind while initiating disciplinary action (court martial) in the case against him, after initially ordering administrative action.
Prakash said the disciplinary action, initiated after Defence Minister A K Antony advised the army chief to change his decision against him, was in violation of an Adjutant General Branch's earlier directive that once an action has been set in motion, it can't be changed.
"It (AG's letter) says once the competent authority after having applied his mind to full facts of the case decides to initiate administrative action and such action has commenced, at this stage to revert to disciplinary action is not only unjustified but also legally unsustainable," Prakash said.
However, the AFT had in its ruling on February 22 rejected Prakash's contention in this regard, saying the policy was only a general guidance and "not binding in nature."
Prakash said the COI report from Kolkata-based Eastern Command was received by the army chief on December 22-23 (2009) and the latter took three weeks to issue him a show cause notice on January 15 (2010).
"I gave my reply on January 22. On January 29, I was given a letter, which said that the administrative action had been cancelled and disciplinary action is to be constituted against me," he said. Prakash said the army chief took only three days, since his reply to the notice, before changing administrative action to disciplinary action.
Also, the letter to initiate disciplinary action against him didn't mention his reply to the show-cause notice, clearly indicating there was no application of mind to change the earlier decision, he added.
However, Prakash refused to comment when asked if the army chief had not told the 'full truth' couple of weeks ago, when he said that he had considered the former military secretary's reply before ordering disciplinary action.
Asked why did he not complain against the army chief's decision right after receiving the letter on January 29, he said, "I had no time to complain against the action as it was the day of 'Beating the Retreat', when all offices in North and South Blocks close down by one pm and I was also being given a farewell, when I received this shocking letter."
The retired official said with the AFT giving him an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses in the fresh COI, it will help "put things in the correct perspective" and bring more issues to light.
"The opportunity given to me now to cross examine the witnesses will put things in the correct perspective because all these officers or the witnesses, came in my absence, so some more issues will come to light and put things in correct perspective," Prakash said, adding a particular witness had sought a suitable posting from him as a favour.
The former military secretary also questioned the composition of the COI in the case and said the presiding officer in the case should have been his senior and all members should be of equal rank.
"In the present case, the presiding officer, though of the same rank, was a junior officer. But what is more important is that both the other members were major generals and junior in service also," he said.
Pointing out that the controversial 71-acre piece of land in Sukna did not belong to the Army and it had no jurisdiction over it, Prakash said, "The land does not belong to the Army. No money has changed hands and the land remains with the original owner. So, where is the scam?"
He added that military authorities had jurisdiction of issuing NOCs only in cantonments. Prakash said he presumes that the realtors had sought NOCs from the Sukna military authorities as they would have wanted to have 'neighbourly relations' with the army there.
Asked why Lieutenant General Rath as 33 Corps Commander had changed his decision and issued NOC to the realtors, Prakash said, "In the initial instance, the commercial lease was for building malls there, which could have been a security-related issue and here the proposal was to set up an educational institute, and I suppose that must have made the Corps Commander change his stance."
Accepting his relations with private realtor Dilip Agarwal, who received the NOC from the Army for building an educational institute near Sukna, Prakash said, "I have said it upfront and that is the first line of the statement in the inquiry, that he is my friend."
Asked if his meeting with businessman Gaj Singh in Jodhpur along with Agarwal and visit to the Chumta tea estate was wrong, the retired officer said, "In hindsight, one can presume that it was not correct but at that point of time, I thought it was a harmless thing to do."
He termed his meeting with Gaj Singh as a 'courtesy call' and said the visit to Chumta tea estate was only for five to ten minutes and no proposals were discussed there.