The Delhi High Court has given Lieutenant General SK Sahni (retd) — against whom the army had directed disciplinary action for irregularities in procurement of dry rations — a breather. It held that the force did not comply with a rule in the Army Act while conducting the court of inquiry (CoI) against him.
The CoI had held Sahni, who retired on October 1, 2006, and nine other officers including a major general and two brigadiers guilty of various lapses in the procurement scam. Sahni filed a writ petition against the inquiry. The High Court restrained the government from taking disciplinary action against him till the petition was disposed of.
A division bench, headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar, held that Rule 180 of the Army Act had not been complied with and so the army cannot take any further proceedings against the petitioner on the basis of the CoI. The compliance of the rule is mandatory. It allows the accused to be present throughout the proceedings, make a statement or call his witnesses. The court has, however, held that the army is at liberty to give notice to General Sahni and continue with the proceedings under Rule 180 or in the alternative take recourse to Rule 22.
It has also held that the army can exercise any other power available to it under the Act as long as it does not rely on the proceedings of the CoI. The judgement reads, “22 witnesses examined in the general court of inquiry said nothing against the petitioner or his conduct in relation to discharge of his duties.
The court has observed that “the language of Rule 180 is certain and unambiguous, capable of only one interpretation — to afford a full opportunity in terms of this provision is the responsibility of the competent authority.”
The army is likely to file an appeal against the judgment in the Supreme Court.