New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed its anguish over top-ranking army officers being let off with minor punishment of "reprimand" and small fine for their involvement in illegal sale of weapons and kept its option open to order probe in all army commands.
Indicating that it may consider a probe of all commands instead of limiting it to south western command from where the racket was unearthed, a bench headed by Justice HL Dattu said punishment awarded to erring officers, some of whom are of the rank of Major, Lt Colonel, Colonel etc are "not commensurate with the gravity of the offence" and "shocks the conscience of the court".
The bench feared that arms, ammunitions and weapons "freely sold in market like toys by the gang involved in it" may have landed in "hands of terrorists" and used for killing innocent people.
The bench, also comprising Justice SA Bobde, said in view of the "seriousness" and "gravity of the situation", Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi should seek instructions from the government and respond as to "why not the scope of the writ petition be enlarged to hold inquiry in all the commands and why not the punishment awarded be set aside and court of inquiry be considered afresh for enhancing it".
The bench, which sought the answers in 15 days and posted the hearing for September 16, perused the materials and documents, some of them in sealed envelope, placed before it and said "punishment has been pittance" and "just an eyewash".
"We are not satisfied with the punishment. Punishment is not commensurate with the gravity of the offence," the bench said and added that "there have been cases that this court has not interfered with the punishment of removal to cadets or constables for drunken brawl keeping in view the discipline to be maintained".
The bench noted that what has emerged from the probe in the Ganganagar district of Rajasthan, where the army unit is under the south western command, is the "tip of the iceberg".
"Army officers are selling weapons. He is trained at the cost of tax payers money. He is trained to save citizens but what sort of officers they are," the bench observed noting that "it is also not clear how many weapons they have sold".