Shillong: The Army Court hearing the Sukna land scam case against PK Rath, a former 33 Corps Commander, strongly reprimanded the Lieutenant General. Pronouncing its verdict on Saturday, the court martial ordered two years of seniority loss as well as 15 years of loss of service for Rath.
"To take rank and precedence as if appointment as substantiating Lt Gen bore dated May 24, 2010, forfeiture of 15 years service for pensionary benefits and severely reprimand," General Court Martial (GCM) Presiding Officer Lt Gen I J Singh said in his verdict.
The two-year loss of seniority would mean that the officer who took the three-star rank in May 2008, would be now considered as being promoted as Lt Gen from May 2010 only. He has one more year of service left.
Rath was found guilty by the court yesterday on three counts but four other charges including `intent to defraud` were dropped.
Rath broke down in the court while the judgement was being pronounced.
Expressing gratitude to the GCM for dropping the defraud charges, he said, "This has removed the stigma which has been haunting me ever since the chargesheet was filed in the case."
The order is subject to confirmation by the Defence Ministry.
Rath, former Deputy Chief of Army Staff-designate, was found guilty of issuing a `No-Objection Certificate` in the capacity of 33 Corps Commander to a private realtor for constructing educational institutions on a piece of land adjacent to the Sukna military station in West Bengal.
The other two charges for which he was found guilty are signing of MoU with Geetanjali Trust for construction of the educational institute and for not informing his superiors in the Eastern Command about the proposed agreement.
The four charges of `intent to defraud` against the officer were dropped by the GCM.
In his order Lt Gen I J Singh said, "After carefully considering the case and the statements of the witnesses, it has been found that there is no evidence that the accused could have gained anything or cause injury to anyone."
"He has never told any officer to keep the matter as secret. Efforts were made to safeguard the interests of the army by ensuring that security is not compromised, and reservations in the proposed educational institution for the students and family of the army men," Singh said, adding there was "no deceit or secrecy in the signing of the MoU."
Holding Rath guilty for not informing the superior authorities about the change in decision, Singh said, "But it was his duty to inform and seek approval of the headquarters Eastern Command. His action is prejudicial to good order and military discipline."
The sentence of 15 years loss of service for pensionary benefits to Rath would mean a substantial decrease of 35-40 per cent in pension.
"Though the pension would be for the rank of Lt Gen only but it will be calculated for 25 years of service and not 40 years," Rath`s counsel Major S S Pandey said here.
Rath had been designated as Deputy Chief of Army Staff but when the scandal came to light in 2008, his appointment was cancelled and since then he has been attached to different army formations for disciplinary proceedings.
An Army Court of Inquiry had found Rath guilty of wrongdoing along with Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash, the then Military Secretary to the Army Chief, Lt Gen Ramesh Halgali, the then 11 Corps Commander and Maj Gen P K Sen.
Subsequently, the Court Martial was ordered against Rath and Prakash while administrative action was directed against the two other officers.
Prakash, the senior most of the four, is also facing disciplinary action in the case and his Summary of Evidence (SoE) has been completed in the Eastern Command headquarters in Kolkata.
Halgali is presently serving as the Director General (Military Training) in the Army headquarters in New Delhi.
Rath expressed gratitude to the army court martial for removing the "stigma" of intent to defraud charge against him and said he wanted the posterity to benefit through the proposed residential school near the Sukna military station.
The military officer, who broke down at the court minutes before the sentence was pronounced, had also appealed to the jury to consider his "unblemished service in the army" while deciding the quantum of punishment.
"I wanted to benefit the posterity and keep in mind the larger interest of the organisation (Army). Me and my family had suffered for the last one and a half years, facing humiliation and harassment for a matter that was not of personal gain to me," Rath said in a statement made before the sentence.
Claiming that he had served the Army for the last 37 years with "full dedication and selflessness" contributing to the organisation to the best of his ability, Rath said he wanted to improve the quality of life there by initiating infrastructural works such as opening up ATMs, passenger reservation centre and the proposed school near the military station.
"I had acted as per the admitted facts. The decision making of the Corps Commander depends on the staff. The commander is not expected to know all the knitty gritties of a decision," Rath plead.
He said his "guiding factor" was the feedback from his staff and his "value system".
"After the cancellation of the tea tourism project, I was given the impression (by the staff) that there was a remote possibility of the army acquiring the land," he claimed.
The proposed residential school, he said, would have had reservation for the army students and their family besides fee concessions.
Rath said there was little time to go into the details and that he had thought it was at the exploratory stage.
"When I spoke to the army commander at the first opportunity, he did not give his approval and promptly status quo was restored," Rath said, adding that he had no connections with the "private parties".
Significantly, the character and particulars of Rath submitted by the Eastern Army Headquarters to the court today also said he had an "exemplary" general character during his service.
Rath, a recipient of the AVSM, had also bagged a commendation from the GOC-in-C Northern Command in 1992.
There was no case against the general till this scam, it said.
With PTI Inputs