SC pulls up Defence Ministry on alleged weapons selling racket

Dubbing as "very serious" the alleged involvement of army and civilian officers in illegal sale of arms, the Supreme Court on Friday took umbrage to a junior officer filing an affidavit on behalf of the Defence Ministry.

Last Updated: Oct 22, 2010, 18:06 PM IST

New Delhi: Dubbing as "very serious" the
alleged involvement of army and civilian officers in illegal
sale of arms, the Supreme Court on Friday took umbrage to a junior
officer filing an affidavit on behalf of the Defence Ministry,
which was asked to submit it afresh.

"Is the Ministry of Defence shirking to file an
affidavit in the matter," a Bench comprising Justices B
Sudershan Reddy and S S Nijjar said and wondered whether the
weapons have landed in the hands of "dacoits".

The Bench was anguished that the affidavit on behalf
of the Ministry of Defence was filed by an army officer of the
rank of Captain.
"On such a serious issue how can an officer of the
rank of Captain file an affidavit on behalf of the Ministry of
Defence," the Bench said adding there was a need to maintain
some "decorum" and higher authority should have filed the
affidavit.

"It is a very serious matter. Where are those weapons.
Are those in the hands of dacoits," the Bench said while
expressing its disappointment over the manner in which
Government handled the entire issue.

"We are not satisfied with the affidavit filed on
behalf of the Ministry of Defence. Accordingly, a proper
affidavit has to be filed by the Ministry," the Bench said and
granted four weeks to the Centre to file a fresh affidavit.

The Bench said only after going through a proper
affidavit, it would pass any directions on the PIL filed by
advocate Arvind Kumar Sharma who has sought an inquiry either
by the CBI or a former judge of the Supreme Court into the
alleged racket involving illegal sale of arms and issuance of
license.

At the outset, Sharma claimed that the affidavit by
the Centre was a total "eyewash" as it has not named any
senior officers of the rank of Brigadier and Major General,
who were allegedly part of the racket.

Additional Solicitor General Vivek Tankha described
the issue as "serious" but maintained that the PIL was for
publicity which evoked strong protest from Sharma, who
said he has raised an issue of national security while the
government preferred to file an affidavit through a junior
army officer.

At this point, the Bench questioned, "How an army
officer can file an affidavit on behalf of the Ministry of
Defence?

"We cannot go by this affidavit," the bench said and
raised objection that in the affidavit it was mentioned
that 40 officers sold their weapons but it was also stated
that only four top-ranking officials were allegedly involved
in the racket of illegal selling of weapons.
The affidavit filed by the Defence Ministry had
stated that four top-ranking officials of the army procured
weapons supplied to their colleagues and illegally sold them
to arms dealers, gun houses and civilians.

Forty others officers sold their own weapons and 25
others were found in possession of ammunition in excess to
their entitlement, it had said.

The Ministry had stated that the three serving
Lieutenant Colonels and a Colonel posted in Rajasthan were
allegedly part of the racket and they coordinated procurement
of non-service pattern (NSP) weapons from army officials and
sold them.

Under the Army Rules, sale of NSP weapons is strictly
prohibited. Besides the service weapon, every officer is
entitled to keep a single NSP weapon, which has to be either
returned on retirement or permission has to be taken if he
chooses to retain it.

With disciplinary proceedings on against four
officers, the MoD had said in the affidavit that it was
looking into the issue throughout the country.

A report prepared by a Court of Inquiry ordered by
Headquarters of South Western Command has detailed a list of
72 high-ranking army officials across the country, who sold
their NSP weapons in violation of the Army Order and the Army
Act 1959.

Based on this, the Army initiated disciplinary
proceedings against all, except 10 officials, who have
retired, and four serving officials who managed to retrieve
their weapons.
The list also includes 25 officers, who were posted at
Indian Army Training Team (IMTRAT), Bhutan, and possessed
imported ammunition (50 rounds) in excess of their
authorisation.

The apex court on July 30 had expressed its
displeasure against the Centre and Rajasthan government over
their approach towards taking action against army and civilian
officers allegedly involved in illegal sale of arms and
issuance of licences to dubious persons.

"It is a serious matter and we have to take it to the
logical conclusion," the Bench had said.
Rajasthan Government said its anti-corruption bureau
has conducted the probe.

According to the PIL, the scam came to light in 2007
after authorities in Rajasthan`s Ganganagar district noticed
that several licenses were issued to dubious persons,
including terrorists, smugglers and rowdy elements by local
authorities without verification.

Subsequent investigations by the government revealed a
larger racket in which several army officials, including some
holding the rank of major generals, IAS officers and those
belonging to Rajasthan State Service, were allegedly involved
in the sale of arms to dubious elements.

PTI