New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Centre why departmental action cannot be initiated for "misconduct" against top ranking Army officers, who have pleaded guilty and let off with minor punishment of reprimand and small fine for their involvement in illegal sale of arms.
"Why can't we say initiate departmental proceedings for misconduct. Here is a case (against officers) not befitting to be in Army so can't we ask to hold inquiry into the misconduct. Why not proper inquiry for misconduct," a bench headed by Justice HL Dattu said and asked Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi to return with the answer, when the matter will be heard again on October 14.
The bench was not convinced with the argument of the Attorney General that letting off an officer with Rs 500 fine as punishment or censuring him in no way took away the tag of conviction and throughout his career, he is convicted in the eyes of law, the army and never gets promotion.
The bench, also comprising Justices SA Bobde and AM Sapre, suggested departmental action for misconduct after Rohatgi said the proceedings initiated since 2007 on public interest litigation (PIL) cannot be turned into an appeal for directing retrial of those, who have already pleaded guilty and have been inflicted with punishment in various forms.
He said any proceedings against those officers, who are not party in the PIL, would amount to infringing upon their fundamental right of Article 20, which says that no person shall be convicted for the same offence more than once.
Taking note that the Attorney General was opposing tooth and nail, its endeavour to widen the scope of the PIL by raising the issue of fundamental right, the bench said there was a prayer in the petition for initiating departmental action, which can be looked into since "misconduct is a wide expression".
The apex court said though seven years have passed since the PIL was filed by advocate Arvind Sharma on the issue but the first prayer is still intact for CBI probe and "Why we should not be granting prayer for CBI inquiry".
Rohatgi said "the first prayer cannot be allowed in respect of those already tried."