Shillong: In the first conviction of a serving three-star officer by an army court, former 33 Corps Commander Lt. Gen. P.K. Rath was Friday found guilty in the Sukna land scam in West Bengal that came to the fore in 2008.
Rath is the senior-most serving general to be hauled up for indiscipline. The sentence is expected in a couple of days from now.
Rath had been charged with intent to defraud the Army by issuing a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) to a private realtor to construct an educational institution on a 70-acre plot adjacent to the military station.
Another senior general, Lt. Gen. Avadesh Prakash, who was the Military Secretary when General Deepak Kapoor was the army chief but is now retired, is also expected to soon face a court martial in the same case. The order for Prakash`s court martial was issued by Kapoor before his retirement in March 2010.
The court martial, comprising five senior lieutenant generals and headed by Lt. Gen. I.P. Singh, found Rath guilty on three counts.
Among the charges are intent to defraud the army by issuing the NOC "improperly and without authority" and without "due and proper" examination of security concerns of the Army installations; signing a memorandum of understanding with the private realtor to reserve seats in the educational institution for wards of army officers; and not informing the higher authorities about the land transfer.
The fraud charges under Section 52 of the Army Act attracts a maximum punishment of 10-year imprisonment.
The judgment was delivered by the General Court Martial after an eight-month long hearing in the case.
When the scam had come to light, the army had ordered a court of inquiry, which held that Rath and Avadesh Prakash, as also Lt. Gen. Ramesh Halgali and Maj. Gen. P.K. Sen were blameworthy. Halgali was Rath`s Chief of Staff at 33 Corps and Sen was the administrative head of the Sukna miltiary station in Siliguri district of West Bengal.
The Court of Inquiry had come to the conclusion that Avadesh Prakash had influenced Rath`s decision to issue the NOC to the private realtor, identified as Dalip Aggarwal of Siliguri.
Following the probe report, Kapoor had in early 2010 ordered minor administrative action as punishment to the officers, which was overruled by Defence Minister A.K. Antony.
Subsequently, Kapoor had to order courts martial against Rath and Avadesh Prakash, who had retired in January 2010.
That apart, the government also put on hold Rath`s appointment as the deputy chief of the army.
Halgali was let-off with administrative action as he was the whisleblower in the case and had brought the issue to the notice of the army higher-ups.
Sen faced administrative action, as his role in the entire episode was found to be minor in nature.