The Supreme Court on Tuesday sought to know as to why can’t top army officers, involved in illegal arms racket, be given harsher punishment, similar to a “poor civilian” who is sentenced to three months of imprisonment for stealing just Rs 10.
A bench headed by Justice HL Dattu was compelled to draw this comparison as the defence ministry defended the punishment imposed on the army officers, though it agreed the sentence such as “censure” and showing “displeasure” were mild. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said the officials cannot be prosecuted again for it would violate their Constitutional rights. He made this statement in response to a court query on whether the officers could be given harsher punishment.
Unimpressed with the submission, the bench said: “Why a maximum punishment can’t be awarded? We have the highest regard for the defence forces. They are the people who are defending the country’s borders. We have read in the newspaper and seen the channel about the wonderful job they are doing now in J&K (floods). We appreciate their services for the nation. But the allegations are a very serious matter. This must only be the tip of the iceberg.”
The court has fixed October 14 to know whether the officials can be punished under the criminal procedure code, under which civilians are prosecuted for committing a crime.
The court was dealing with a PIL filed by an advocate Arvind Sharma alleging large scale sale of official weapons to arms dealers and private persons by army and certain IAS officer in Rajasthan. He complained the army officers were let off with minor punishments such as censure and reduction in ranks. Some of the IAS officers are meanwhile being prosecuted in Rajasthan.
“Can we not take action when we see the charges are serious enough, take action instead of allowing them to go scot-free. Can’t we say kindly have a second re-look These are high ranking officers holding superior ranks, they purchase and sell the arms, they plead guilty, but they are let off with milder punishments,” the court asked Rohatgi, when he said Sharma’s PIL didn’t ask for an increase in the punishment.
The AG cited various legal provisions to say that a person already convicted canot be subject to another prosecution or trial for the same offence.