Odisha Sun Times Bureau
New Delhi, Sep 7:
A military tribunal has quashed the court martial of former 33 Corps Commander Lt Gen P K Rath, a native of Odisha, in the Sukna land scam case. The military tribunal also imposed a fine of Rs 1 lakh on the Indian Army for “loss of honour” in the case in which Rath became the first serving three-star rank officer to face disciplinary action.
“The petitioner is acquitted of all charges. He is entitled to restoration of all benefits with 12 per cent interest,” an Armed Forces Tribunal bench headed by Justice Sunil Hali said in its verdict on Friday.
The bench said the petitioner suffered undue harassment and loss of reputation by the act of the respondents which, if not compensated, would be a travesty of justice and ordered payment of Rs 1 lakh to Rath by the respondents.
“People will always speak of your infamy, and for a respectable person, dishonor is worse than death,” Justice Hali quoted from the Bhagavad Gita while delivering the judgment.
Rath, who had issued a ‘no objection certificate’ to a private builder for building an educational institution on a 70-acre plot adjacent to the military cantonment in Sukna in West Bengal, was found guilty by a court martial in 2011.
Two Indian Army officers Rath and Lt Gen Avdesh Prakash faced court martial in the case but Rath was the first to be punished.
On the issue of allowing an educational institution to come up on land adjacent to the Sukna military station, the tribunal said it was the prerogative of the West Bengal government to allow an educational institution to come up.
“The Army cannot have any say in the matter except that its security concern should not be jeopardised. Therefore, the petitioner, who has been charged for having committed an act of omission and commission, which is an act prejudicial to good order and military discipline, cannot be sustained,” it said.
The tribunal rejected the Indian Army’s contention that the construction of the educational complex could have been a threat saying that “every activity of civilian nature adjacent to the Sukhna station is a security threat cannot be accepted.”
“An educational institution in itself restricts the entry only to a class of persons. Therefore, security concern is lesser,” it said.
The bench also clarified that Lt Gen Rath was fully competent and authorised to issue an NoC in the case as “nothing has been brought before us to show that such a decision could not have been taken by the petitioner”.
The tribunal also remarked that it was “incorrect” to say that Rath had not followed the legal process and he “cannot be held guilty for non-pursuing the process of acquisition initiated by the predecessor whom, per se, was contrary to law”.
“We can safely say that there was no acquisition process going in accordance with the law and also as per the government policy. It can be stated that there was no indiscipline committed by the petitioner in this behalf. He had not breached any legal norm,” the bench said.
Rath had filed a petition in the Armed Forces Tribunal demanding the quashing of his General Court Martial (GCM) and granting him exemplary compensation for the loss of reputation and honour after being court martialled by an Army court comprising seven Lt Gen-rank officers.
The GCM had punished him by awarding the sentence of loss of seniority of rank of 18 months; forfeiture of 15 years’ past service for the purpose of pension and severe reprimand.
The land scam came into the open in mid-2008 when former Army Chief Gen VK Singh was the Eastern Army Commander and had initiated the court of inquiry in the alleged land scam.
Rath had alleged in his petition that Gen V K Singh had given “undue importance” to the case as he had a “serious grudge” against the then Military Secretary Lt Gen Prakash whom he held responsible for obtaining a commitment from him on the issue of his date of birth, which stood in the way of his extension of tenure as the Chief of the Army Staff.