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SC relief for 73 Army ' gunrunners'.

THANKS to the big U- turn by Supreme Court, 73 Army personnel -- including officers of the rank of major, brigadier and lieutenant colonel involved in illegal sale of personal weapons and gun licenses to dubious persons in Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan and Punjab -- secured a big reprieve on Tuesday.

In a major climb down from its earlier stand that the punishment of mere " forfeiture of pay hike" or " cutting down of seniority ranging from three years to one year" and " severe reprimand" awarded to these personnel was not commensurate to the " serious offence" committed, the SC on Tuesday as it agreed to the Army's argument that these officials cannot be punished twice for the same offence under the criminal procedure code or Army Act.

Court was giving verdict in a PIL filed in 2007 by lawyer Arvind Sharma, who alleged " widespread nexus" involving Army officers and arms dealers.

OFFENCE -- Senior officials in nexus with arms dealers sold around 17 weapons PUNISHMENT-- Forfeiture of pay hike and seniority ranging from three to one year and " severe reprimand" OFFENCE-- As many as 46 officers sold weapons without authority's sanction PUNISHMENT-- Forfeiture of pay hike and seniority of two years and fine of ` 500 OFFENCE -- As many as 25 officers posted in Indian Military Training Team ( IMRAT), Bhutan, imported ammunition in excess of their authorisation PUNISHMENT-- a note of severe displeasure LET OFF LIGHTLY Court was giving verdict in a PIL filed in 2007 by lawyer Arvind Sharma, who alleged " widespread nexus" involving Army officers and arms dealers.

But a bench headed by chief justice T S Thakur said it was satisfied that suitable action has been taken by the state and central governments against officers and since there was already a firm procedure prescribed for issuance of weapons, nothing more needs to be done.

The court however asked Army to ensure that the mechanism for sale of Non Standard Pattern ( NSP) weapons ( such as 9mm pistols or .30 bolt action rifles from ordnance factories at cheap prices for personal use) is under strict scrutiny and supervision of the Competent Authority in accord with the provisions of the Arms Act and Defence Services Regulations " without any exception". It is to be noted that another SC bench headed by then Chief Justice H L Dattu had questioned the light punishment given to the Army officers observing: " These officers are running an industry... can we close our eyes? Are mere reprimands and fine of just ` 500 and forfeiture of service adequate?" It had said it was the court's duty to protect the institutional integrity of Indian Army and not permit a officers found guilty of illegally selling non- service weapons to arms dealers and civilians to get away with lenient sentences like fines or reprimand.

" You dismiss officials for drinking indiscipline but you are letting off the officers involved in gunrunning with a reprimand or a meagre fine? Ordinary citizen says if he steals ` 10, he lands up in jail. But here you let off Army officers who sell their guns illegally.

Common man will come to the court and ask whose crime is more serious? What do we tell him? And have you ever thought what happens if these guns land in the hands of terrorists?" SC had said.

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Aug 17, 2016
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