Naik Prem Singh can heave a sigh of relief. On Friday, his 22-year-old legal battle ended, the Chandigarh-bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) set aside his dismissal and granted pensionary benefits.
Singh, resident of Hoshiarpur, was enrolled in 1 Sikh Light Infantry (LI) in 1971. In 1989 he was posted in Sri Lanka as part Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Pedro. He was section commander of a LMG bunker. The bunker came under LTTE fire and while defending it along with 3 of his subordinates, the bunker was abandoned. The subsequent search revealed loss of LMG, rifle and other equipment.
Singh was served with a chargesheet in 1990 for showing cowardice in face of the enemy action. But the General Court Martial (GCM) held him not guilty. The findings of the court martial were not confirmed by General Officer Commanding, 54 Infantry Division. So, the GCM assembled again in 1991 and he was acquitted again.
But then he was served with a show cause notice for loss of LMG on March 10, 1992 for taking action against him under section 20 of the Army Act. Following which he was finally dismissed from the service on March 25, 1992.
He filed a petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 1992. Later, the petition was transferred to Chandigarh-bench of the AFT.
Arun Singla, counsel for Prem Singh, submitted that the soldier had got superannuated on December 31, 1991, and he couldn’t be issued show cause notice and later dismissed as he was no longer in service.
The Army submitted that his date of superannuation was extended, but no concerned order was placed in the court.
The bench comprising Justice Prakash Krishna and Air Marshal SC Mukul (retd) ruled, “A plain reading of section 20 particulalry sub section (3) read with Rule 17 of the Army Rules would show that it contemplates a situation where the person whose dismissal or removal from service is sought for is in service. The opening sentence of section 20 (1) says “may dismiss or remove from service”. Necessarily it, therefore, excludes the dismissal or removal of a person who is no longer in service, as in the present case, having attained the age of superannuation earlier…we find sufficient force in the argument of the petitioner (Prem Singh) that the show cause notice and the impugned order could not have been passed against the petitioner who was already superannuated.”