The Chandigarh bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) has reinstated a soldier, now dead, after more than 25 years, who was dismissed and sentenced to three-month rigorous imprisonment for going to drink water without permission from his superior.
The bench headed by Justice Surinder Singh Thakur has entitled his widow to full pay and allowances till the date of his normal retirement and then family pension at the rate of 9% from the date each component fell due and also imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 on the central government, which will be paid to her.
Sepoy Surinder Singh, who was serving in the 16th battalion of Sikh Light Infantry at Abohar in 1989, was deployed as night guard at the commanding officer (CO)’s residence on the intervening night of August 12/13. As it was hot, around 12.40 am, he felt thirsty and went to drink water. While returning, as per his version, he was repeatedly hit by Major J Chentre, then posted in the Western Command liaison unit, on the forehead causing a bleeding injury. He submitted that he was kept in a solitary confinement and was not provided any medical help and was never taken before the CO till his injury was healed.
He faced a summary court martial for allegedly leaving duty without permission for a while and also for hitting Major Chentre on the face. But no medical proof of Chentre’s injury was produced. He was informed about his dismissal and awarding of punishment of three-month rigorous imprisonment on September 14, 1989.
Challenges his dismissal
Surinder Singh filed a petition in the high court in 1991 which was transferred to the tribunal in 2010. But the Army did not file the reply for about 20 years during the proceedings. It told the tribunal that the original record of the summary court martial was lost and also could not produce any proof that a copy was ever given to Singh.
Singh died in 2001 and after that his wife Nirmala Devi continued to fight the case.
In 2014, the Army produced the photocopies of the court martial.
“It is also not understood as to why no action was taken against the deceased till September 10, 1989, when the commanding officer was available and why it was left at the whims of the officiating commanding officer who was not even empowered to take such an action. These are very vital unanswered questions which involved the human, legal and constitutional rights that go to the root of the case,” said Justice Surinder Singh Thakur in the judgment.
The judgment added, “The next shocking fact is that no legal assistance appears to have been provided to the deceased and no opportunity to adduce the evidence in defence was accorded to him, are yet other factors to impel us to hold the impugned order and subsequent order of rejection of appeal (of Surinder Singh) wrong and illegal.”
The AFT commented, “The case has a chequered history and is a classic example of our system where the petitioner strived hard to get justice for a period of about three decades but before the final verdict he passed away, leaving behind his widow and four siblings.”