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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

illegal selling of “Prohibited/NSP bore-weapons” obtained by the Army Personnel through Central Ordinance Depot (COD), Jabalpur on the basis of the order passed by the Allotment Committee. It is alleged that the weapons have been sold to the general public including to persons with criminal records, in breach of relevant Rules and provisions of the Arms Act, 1959. The petitioner has relied on the enquiry report of the Collector, Sriganganagar, dated 3rd July, 2007 which, according to him, has enlisted the names of Army Personnel, who had indulged in illegal sale of such prohibited weapons to the general public and people having a criminal background, including anti-social elements and terrorists. The petitioner has also referred to another instance of registration of various cases by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) under Sections 465, 468, 471 and 420 read with 120-B IPC in the District of Jammu regarding issuance of around 30,000 armed licenses by the concerned officials/District Magistrate between 1994 to 1998.

                                                              NON-REPORTABLE

                        IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

                         CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION

                     WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) No. 462/2007

Arvind Kumar Sharma                                ….….Petitioner

                                   Versus

Union of India & Ors.                               ....Respondents



                             J U D G M E N T



A.M. KHANWILKAR, J.




1.    This Writ Petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of  India  has
been filed by an  Advocate  practicing  before  this  Court  raising  public
interest issue regarding illegal selling  of  “Prohibited/NSP  bore-weapons”
obtained by the  Army  Personnel  through  Central  Ordinance  Depot  (COD),
Jabalpur on the basis of the order passed by the Allotment Committee. It  is
alleged that the weapons have been sold to the general public  including  to
persons with criminal records, in breach of relevant  Rules  and  provisions
of the Arms Act, 1959. The petitioner has relied on the  enquiry  report  of
the Collector, Sriganganagar, dated 3rd July, 2007 which, according to  him,
has enlisted the names of Army Personnel, who had indulged in  illegal  sale
of such prohibited weapons  to  the  general  public  and  people  having  a
criminal background, including  anti-social  elements  and  terrorists.  The
petitioner has also referred to another instance of registration of  various
cases by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) under Sections 465,  468,
471 and 420 read with 120-B IPC in the District of Jammu regarding  issuance
of  around  30,000  armed  licenses  by  the  concerned   officials/District
Magistrate between 1994 to 1998. That has been enquired  into.  The  enquiry
revealed active connivance between various arms  dealers  of  Jammu,  Delhi,
Punjab &  Haryana  and  Rajasthan  in  violation  of  established  procedure
prescribed by the Arms Act; and that  in  majority  of  cases  the  original
addressee/applicant was not traceable at the  given  address.  According  to
the petitioner, the licensing authority even in the State of  Rajasthan  and
in  particular  Sriganganagar  District,  a  border  State  of  India   have
reportedly granted Arms Licenses without due  verification.  The  petitioner
has relied on newspaper reports in the State of Rajasthan to  buttress  this
plea. He  also  relies  on  the  enquiry  report  dated  03.07.2007  of  the
Collector, Sriganganagar. According to the petitioner, no follow  up  action
has been taken by the concerned Authority  of  the  State  of  Rajasthan  in
spite of the said report. The petitioner  has,  therefore,  prayed  that  an
enquiry be directed through an independent agency like CBI  to  unravel  the
conspiracy and to take action against the concerned officers including  Army
Personnel involved in the stated arms license scandal  in  the  District  of
Sriganganagar,  Rajasthan.  Direction  is  also  sought  against  the   Home
Ministry, State  of  Rajasthan  to  forthwith  cancel  all  licenses  issued
without due verification/identification in violation of Arms Act, 1959.  The
petitioner has also sought direction against the Union of India to  strictly
follow the provisions of the Arms Act, 1959; and to frame strict  guidelines
mandating all the officials/licensing authority  of  the  States  throughout
the Country to ensure due verification through  the  Home  Ministry  on  the
basis  of  report  called  from  the  concerned  Police  Station  about  the
antecedents of the applicant  and  not  by  the  Collector,  before  issuing
license.  It is further prayed that the Ministry of Defence,  Government  of
India,  must  initiate  appropriate  action  against  the   concerned   Army
Personnel who have been named by the Collector in  the  preliminary  enquiry
report dated 3rd July, 2007.





2.    After notice was issued by the Court, the  respondents  in  particular
State Authorities  were  called  upon  to  produce  enquiry  report  of  the
Additional District Collector, Sriganganagar in a sealed cover. That  report
has been submitted. As the matter proceeded,  the  Court  vide  order  dated
30th July, 2010 issued further directions  to  the  State  of  Rajasthan  to
place on record a status report regarding the  proceedings  initiated  after
registration of FIR. The Court perused the  affidavit  filed  by  the  Major
O.P. Sharma who was serving as Adjutant 1, Air  Formation  Signal  Regiment,
New Delhi, wherein it is mentioned that out of 41 officers, one  JCO  and  4
retired officers, who had sold their Non Service  Pattern  (NSP)  weapon  in
violation of  the  provisions  of  the  Arms  Act  and  Special  Army  Order
1/S/1996, four officers retrieved their weapons  and  administrative  action
against  them  was  in  progress.  Six  officers  had  retired.  The   civil
administration was asked to proceed against all  the  10  retired  officers.
The remaining officers were facing disciplinary action under  the  Army  Act
for which necessary action was initiated. The Court, however,  recorded  its
dissatisfaction and called upon the Ministry of Defence  to  file  a  proper
and comprehensive affidavit giving details about the  action  taken  against
the officers concerned. In furtherance  of  this  direction,  affidavit  has
been filed by the authorized officer, on  18th  February,  2011.  The  Court
after perusing the relevant record regarding the details and status  of  the
investigation in 14 First Information Reports/Cases  and  the  affidavit  of
Additional Superintendent of Police, Sriganganagar observed that in view  of
the magnitude and seriousness of the allegations  leveled  against  some  of
the IAS Officers in the State, the Chief Secretary of the State must file  a
comprehensive status report along with a proper affidavit. Accordingly,  the
Chief Secretary filed affidavit, sworn on 8th March, 2011,  giving  relevant
information about the progress  of  the  respective  cases.  Further  status
reports have been filed from time, to time during the further hearing.





3.    On 30th April, 2013, the petitioner appearing  in  person  had  argued
that in spite of the gravity of the misconduct/criminal  offences  committed
by numerous Army Personnel ranging  from  the  lower  ranks  to  the  higher
ranks, the Army authorities  have  failed  to  initiate  appropriate  action
against them. The Court after recording this  contention  and  perusing  the
relevant facts and status reports found  that  before  any  effective  order
could be passed it would be appropriate for the Ministry of Defence to  file
an affidavit setting out the latest position including the  details  of  any
orders of disciplinary action/punishment which may have been passed  against
the officers/Army personnel. The Court further directed that  the  affidavit
should specifically mention about the status of  action  taken  against  the
officers named in the enquiry report dated 15th July,  2007.  The  State  of
Rajasthan was also directed  to  submit  latest  status  report  as  to  the
progress  made  in  various  criminal/disciplinary   proceedings   including
against any I.A.S. Officers. Accordingly, additional affidavit of  Director,
Ministry of Defence has  been  filed  (at  pages  500-512)  giving  relevant
information about the action taken against the Army Personnel and status  of
those proceedings including the status of pending  proceedings.  Along  with
the affidavit, specific information regarding the action taken  against  the
concerned Army Personnel including by way of disciplinary  action  has  been
placed on record in the form of a chart annexed as  Appendix-A.   Appendix-A
mentions about the action taken against 25 officers  involved  in  importing
ammunition  in  excess  of  authorization.  After  enquiry,  the   Competent
Authority  has  awarded  Severe  Displeasure  (Non-Recordable)  by   General
Officer-in-Command, South Western Command. In another chart annexed  to  the
affidavit as Appendix-B, summary of administrative action initiated  against
twelve officers who retrieved and deposited weapons is  mentioned.  Some  of
them have been awarded severe displeasure (recordable)  and  in  some  cases
non-recordable. Chart annexed as Appendix-C to the affidavit  gives  summary
of disciplinary action initiated against another twenty five Army  Personnel
who were  involved  in  sale  of  a  single  weapon.  Punishment  of  severe
reprimand/reprimand with fine has been awarded in some cases  and  in  other
cases forfeiture of one year service for the purpose of promotion  has  been
awarded. In chart Appendix-D, details of 10 cases  of  retired  officers  is
mentioned. Their proposals are referred to  Civil  Administration  and  were
being processed. Similarly, the Chief Secretary of the  State  of  Rajasthan
filed further affidavit dated 19th July, 2013  (at  pages  513-538),  giving
latest status of criminal proceedings/disciplinary proceedings.





4.    In the context  of  punishment  awarded  to  the  Army  Personnel  the
petitioner contends that  the  department  has  taken  a  lenient  approach.
According to him, the  punishment  ought  to  have  been  more  severe.  The
argument though attractive at the first blush on a deeper scrutiny does  not
commend to us. For, the appropriate authority has  taken  into  account  all
the attending circumstances before  awarding  punishment  to  the  concerned
Army Personnel. Had it been a case of all the Army Officials  being  awarded
same punishment or absolved  and  exonerated,  that  may  have  necessitated
further probe by us. Merely because some  other  punishment  could  also  be
awarded, by itself, can be no ground to continue  with  the  probe  in  this
public interest petition. We  find  that  suitable  action  has  been  taken
against the erring Army Personnel. Further, as there is no  material  before
us to  even  remotely  suggest  that  the  punishment  awarded  against  any
particular Army Personnel is to favour him in any manner,  nothing  more  is
required to be done.





5.    Indeed, the issue raised by the petitioner has resulted in  unraveling
of the irregularities and illegalities committed by the concerned  officers.
 That, however, has now been  redressed  by  the  appropriate  authority  by
taking suitable action against the erring  Army  Personnel.  The  affidavits
filed from time to time by the  appropriate  authority  also  revealed  that
criminal action is instituted against the erring  persons,  which,  in  most
cases, has been taken to its logical end and some  are  pending  trial.   As
regards  the  pending  cases,  we  have  no  doubt  that   the   appropriate
Authority/Court will take the same  to  its  logical  end  expeditiously  in
accordance with law.





6.    Reverting to the response filed  by  the  State  of  Rajasthan,  Chief
Secretary in his affidavit sworn on 8th March, 2011, it is stated  that  the
State Government has investigated the  matter  in  right  earnest  and  also
accorded sanction against the concerned Government officials.  Four  members
of the Rajasthan Administrative Services (RAS) were suspended  and  sanction
to prosecute them was also granted. Details  of  criminal  cases  have  been
noted in this affidavit. This affidavit  has  also  placed  on  record  that
there are other 304 suspected licences and those cases were under  scrutiny.
Assurance was given in this affidavit that the scrutiny in that behalf  will
be done within six months time. In the subsequent  affidavit  filed  by  the
State of Rajasthan sworn  on  2nd  August,  2011,  the  progress  about  the
criminal cases has been revealed. This  affidavit  mentions  that  only  one
criminal case was pending for investigation  and  in  one  case  prosecution
sanction  was  awaited.   Further  affidavit  of  the  Chief  Secretary   of
Government of Rajasthan sworn on 19th July, 2013,  was  filed  to  place  on
record the latest status report about the  charge  sheet  filed  in  various
criminal  cases.  It  also  mentions  about  the  status   of   disciplinary
proceedings  initiated  against  two  officers  of  the  State.   From   the
affidavits filed from time to time, it is noticed that suitable  action  has
been taken against all persons found involved during the enquiry, by way  of
criminal proceedings or disciplinary proceedings, as the case may  be.  With
regard to action taken by the State Government  no  specific  grievance  has
been made by the petitioner about its inadequacy or inertia in the  progress
of disciplinary proceedings. A general submission is made that the  response
filed by the State Government is a total eye wash.  At  the  same  time,  no
material is brought to our notice which  would  suggest  that  the  criminal
cases instituted by the State against its erring officers  was  insufficient
measure or that the State has failed to take action against  any  particular
person or Government officer who  was  found  to  be  involved  as  per  the
enquiry report. As regards the criminal cases, the progress of  those  cases
has been placed on record. As observed in the case of action  taken  by  the
Ministry of Defence, we may reiterate that the  appropriate  Authority/Court
will  take  the  proceedings  pending  before  it   to   its   logical   end
expeditiously in accordance with law.





7.    As regards the prayer to issue  direction  to  the  Home  Ministry  to
frame guidelines in the matter of issuing Arms licenses, it is  stated  that
the licensing authority in respect of prohibited bore weapons  is  with  the
Central Government. The Ministry of Home Affairs processes the  applications
strictly as per the provisions of the Arms Act, 1959 and  the  Rules  framed
thereunder. Whereas, the District Magistrate is the licensing authority  for
non prohibited bore weapons. As per the extant  regulations,  the  licensing
authority is obliged to seek report of the officer in-charge of the  nearest
police station to verify the antecedents of the applicant;  and  only  those
who fulfill the prescribed norms are granted license. While  processing  the
applications, the District Magistrate  is  also  obliged  to  consider  such
report and grant arms license for non prohibited  weapons  only  to  persons
who may be residing within the  local  limits  of  the  District  Magistrate
including after due verification of antecedents of the applicant.





8.    Considering the reports and the affidavits  filed  by  the  respective
authorities  from  time  to  time  in  the  present  proceedings  and  being
satisfied that suitable action has been taken by the  appropriate  authority
of the State Government as  well  as  Central  Government  against  officers
whose involvement has been noted in the independent enquiries  made  by  the
concerned department;  and  that  as  there  is  already  a  firm  procedure
prescribed for issuance of prohibited and  non  prohibited  weapons  in  the
shape of provisions of the Arms Act and  the  Rules  framed  thereunder  and
including the periodical instructions  issued  by  the  Department  in  that
behalf, nothing more needs to be done.





9.    Accordingly, we deem it appropriate to dispose of this  petition  with
observation that the  appropriate  Authorities/Court  must  dispose  of  the
pending matter(s) if any, expeditiously in accordance with law.




10.   We place on record our appreciation for the initiative  taken  by  the
petitioner in  filing  this  petition  and  bringing  to  the  fore  such  a
sensitive issue, which otherwise may have gone unnoticed.





11.   While parting, we reiterate the  sentiment  expressed  in  the  orders
passed by this Court from time to time to  ensure  that  the  mechanism  for
sale of NSP weapons must be under strict scrutiny  and  supervision  of  the
Competent Authority in accord with the provisions of the Arms  Act  and  the
Rules framed thereunder including the Defence Services  Regulations  without
any exception.





12.   With the above observations, we dispose of this petition  with  costs.
We direct the Union of India to pay cost quantified at    Rs.10,  000/-,  to
the petitioner. As the petition is disposed in  terms  of  this  order,  the
original record kept in sealed cover be returned back  to  the  counsel  for
the concerned respondent.




                                                             .………………………….CJI
                                                                (T.S.Thakur)


                                                             ..……………………………J.
                                                           (A.M. Khanwilkar)


                                                             ……………………………..J.
                                                      (Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud)
New Delhi,
August 16, 2016

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