Saturday, June 14, 2014

Indian Army general court-martial set aside after 30 years

Mr Justice S.S. Saron
The Punjab and Haryana High Court has set aside the 1984 general court-martial conviction of Naik Kulwant Singh. He had been convicted of mutiny, desertion and aiding desertion following Operation Blue Star (the Indian Army's siege of the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar), was sentenced to two months' confinement, and upon discharge (with 15 years' service) was denied a pension because of his conviction. He sought relief unsuccessfully from the Armed Forces Tribunal, but prevailed in the High Court. The Hindustan Times account reports:
[T]he bench headed by Justice SS Saron declared the GCM as null and void for reason of infraction of Rule 180 of the Army rules.
Under this rule, a person is given opportunity of being present and participate in the inquiry and can give statement or evidence or cross-examine witnesses.
“Insofar as the delay in approaching the court is concerned, it may be noticed that right of pension is a continuing obligation and the fact that the petitioner has come to the court after a long period, would not disentitle him for the pensionary benefits,” reads the high court judgment. “The judgment will benefit a number of soldiers as in most cases the army rules were not followed,” said Arun Singla, counsel for Kulwant Singh.
Army Rule 180 provides:
Procedure when character of a person subject to the Act is involved.—Save in the case of a prisoner of war who is still absent whenever any inquiry affects the character or military reputation of a person subject to the Act, full opportunity must be afforded to such person of being present throughout the inquiry and of making any statement, and of giving any evidence he may wish to make or give, and of cross-examining any witness whose evidence in his opinion, affects his character or military reputation and producing any witnesses in defence of his character or military reputation.
The presiding officer of the court shall take such steps as may be necessary to ensure that any such person so affected and not previously notified receives notice of and fully understands his rights, under this rule.

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