An officer having an extra-marital relationship with his colleague’s wife need not be a ground for his dismissal if it is consensual, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday, dismissing the Centre’s request not to reinstate a naval commander who had allegedly exchanged obscene messages with a fellow officer’s spouse, a foreign national.
A bench headed by chief justice HL Dattu brushed aside the government argument that the high-ranking officer’s alleged extra-marital affair with a foreign woman had the propensity to compromise national security. It ordered the commander’s reinstatement into service.
The CJI said, “Exchange of explicit photos and e-mail messages was between two individuals and there was no complaint. If the lady has complained we can understand. Her husband has also not complained. How would such conduct affect internal security? Will mixing with a foreign national amount to serious misconduct affecting security and national interest?” the court asked.
“Merely being a high-ranking officer and meeting a foreign national cannot be a taboo. In a society where we respect freedom, can we say he should not meet a lady with white skin,” the CJI told attorney general Mukul Rohatgi.
With regard to the Centre’s apprehension that the officer could pass on classified information, the bench said no such charges were levelled in the charge sheet filed before the board of inquiry (BOI).
The commander, stationed at Mumbai, was discharged from the navy on May 7, 2013, after the BOI held him guilty of exchanging explicit messages, including his nude photographs, with the woman.
On his challenge, the Armed Forces Tribunal on June 25, 2014, quashed the dismissal and directed his reinstatement. The officer denied the allegations of an affair.
The Centre then moved the SC against the tribunal order.
Rohatgi argued that the commander’s conduct was unacceptable in a disciplined force.
“It was an adulterous relationship with a fellow officer’s wife. It amounted to stealing the affection of a brother officer’s wife,” he said.
The CJI then asked him if the charge was serious enough to dismiss the officer from service and if the woman’s husband had complained against him.
“His conduct was unbecoming of a senior officer and it was a serious lapse. It involved moral turpitude and such a punishment is warranted,” Rohatgi said, admitting there was no complaint.