New Delhi: The verdict by Armed Forces Tribunal dismissing court martial charges against former commander PK Rath in Sukna land case raises the larger question of the need for reviewing the legal procedure in the armed forces, according to his lawyer.
The tribunal, which gave a clean chit to the former 33 Corps Commander on Friday, had noted that it found no grounds to believe that Rath had compromised security concerns or had indulged in indiscipline, the main charges against him, and said he was competent to take the decision for which he had faced trial.
Rath had been punished in 2011 with two years' loss of seniority, 15 years' loss of service for pension and a severe reprimand, and became the first serving three-star rank officer to face disciplinary action.
"When reputation is hurt, a man is half-dead," the tribunal said quoting a Supreme Court verdict to stress the point of honour and reputation of an individual.
"It is an honour which deserves to be equally preserved by the downtrodden and the privileged. The aroma of reputation is an excellence which cannot be allowed to be sullied with the passage of time," it said.
Rath's counsel Maj SS Pandey said the case highlights that need to take steps to ensure that nobody is allowed to misuse power
"The case raises the larger question of the need for reviewing the legal procedure of the armed forces.
"Nobody should be allowed to abuse and misuse power," he said.
It was alleged that Rath had compromised security concerns of the Army by issuing an NOC for building of educational institutions near the Sukna military station and had not informed his superior authorities about the decision.
"The location of the Army base is far away from the national frontier.. The view that every activity of civilian nature adjacent to the Sukhna station is a security threat can not be accepted...
"It is pertinent to mention here that what has been objected to by the Army was the installation of the tourist complex only for compelling security reasons," the tribunal bench headed by Justice Sunil Hali had said in its order.
The court said that the Army had presented Sukna as a place which was the "home to the Naxalism in early 1960s as well as it is proximity to China. "
Accepting Rath's plea that he had addressed the security concerns of the Army while processing the case, the tribunal said, "It can be safely stated that there was no indiscipline committed by the petitioner in this behalf. He had not breached any legal norm."
On the GCM charge against Rath that he had not informed his superior authorities about the NoC, the tribunal had said, "The question calls for consideration that whether the 33 Corps Commander was competent to take the decision or not in this behalf ? The answer is 'Yes'.
"Nothing has been brought before us to show that such a decision could not have been taken by the petitioner. To state that the petitioner was culpable for not informing is a misnomer. "
The armed forces tribunal had also virtually indicted former Army Chief Gen VK Singh and the government for causing "undue harassment and loss of reputation" to Rath.
"The petitioner has suffered undue harassment and loss of reputation by the act of the respondents which if not compensated would be a travesty of justice.
"Therefore, as a notional compensation for the harassment and loss of honour and name caused to the petitioner, a cost of Rs 1,00,000 is to be paid by respondents to the petitioner within 12 weeks from the issue of these orders," the tribunal said.
The Government of India, Gen VK Singh as former army chief and a few other Army officers were the respondents in the case.