New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday frowned at the central government for letting off lightly army officers in the southwestern command involved in unauthorised sale of weapons they had bought from the army for their personal use but later sold to arms dealers and other people.
Describing the punishment handed over to such officers as "pittance" and "an eyewash", a bench of Justice H.L. Dattu, Justice S.A. Bobde and Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre said: "For a drunken brawl, you dismiss a cadet from service, but here Colonels, Brigadiers and Generals are involved. Where is the discipline?"
Whatever has surfaced "shocks its conscience", said the court in the course of the hearing of a PIL by advocate Arvind Kumar Sharma alleging that serving and retired army officers were involved in the illegal sale of non-service pattern (NSP) weapons.
Taking exception to the eye wash proceedings by the army authorities and letting off guilty officers with minor punishment, the court asked Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi why the scope of the hearing should not be expanded to cover status of such cases in other eight army commands in the country.
The court, seeking the government's response by Sep 16 - the next date of hearing, took exception to army authorities handing down punishment ranging from Rs.500 fine or simple reprimand to the officers who were found to be involved in illegal sale of their NSP weapons.
"The army is supposed to be disciplined force but here officers are involved in illegal arms sale," the court said.
Every army officer is entitled to one NSP weapon in his service. However, it was discovered that some army officers managed to get a number of such weapons which they illegally sold on to arms dealers or private people without proper authorization.
As per rules, Central Ordnance Depot (COD), Jabalpur has to be intimated and its permission taken before the sale of NSP weapon by the service personnel. Advocate Sharma said that in Rajasthan, where the headquarters of the command is located, there are 720 cases of arms licences being issued in an irregular way and 80-90 cases of army officers being involved in illegal sale of their NSP weapons.