Supreme Court of India Re-interprets Section 122 of the Army Act 1950
Case Rajvir Singh vs Secretary, Ministry of Defense .
The Indian Army Act 1950 is a revised version of the earlier Indian Army act of 1911 passed by the Governor General and applied to the British Indian army. This act, in turn, was based on the ‘Indian articles of war 1869’
One of the important sections of the Army act 1950 is section 122 which states no trial by court-martial of any person subject to this act for any offense shall be commenced after the expiration of a period of 3 years from the date of the offense or the date the offense became known. The exceptions are desertion and fraudulent enrolment.
There was much ambiguity in this section and the date the offense was open to interpretation. This lacuna has now been set aside by the Supreme Court which has re-interpreted section 122 of the said act.
The court was hearing an appeal which had been dismissed by Lucknow bench of the armed Forces Tribunal. The concerned officer had prayed that the assembly of GCM to try him be quashed. The case was listed as Rajvir Singh Vs Secretary Min of Defense and others.
The officer (Colonel Rajvir Singh) was the officiating commanding officer of COD (Central Ordinance Depot) Chheoki. He was accused of irregularities in procurement of stores for a Central Ordinance depot and causing wrongful loss to the state to the tune of Rs 60.18 lakhs. These purchases pertained to the period 2005-06 and 2006-07. The matter had come to light through an anonymous complaint and later the Army Liason unit confirmed it. The GOCin who was the competent authority directed by a court of Inquiry and summary of evidence that disciplinary action is initiated against Col Rajvir Singh. This was on May 7; 2007.The Commanding Officer hearing the charge had initially dismissed the charges under Rule 22 of the Army Rules as not having been proved.
However, the order was not accepted by the competent authority which directed recording of an additional summary of evidence. Again it was found by the Commanding Officer that none of the charges stood. Yet again, setting aside the findings of the CO, the competent authority directed that the officer is tried by a GCM (General Court Martial) in August 2010.
The Court Martial was convened but was challenged on by the accused officer, citing section 122 of the Army act. The plea was accepted by the Court Martial. However, the convening authority once again set aside the findings and directed the Court Martial to proceed with the trial. The AFT also ultimately upheld the decision to convene the Court Martial based on earlier judgments of the Supreme Court in the cases of VN Singh and JS Sekhon.
Supreme Court decides
The Supreme Court has however pointed out that the cited judgments were different as in those cases the dispute was as to who was the competent authority to order the Court Martial, which was not the case in this GCM. Hence this GSM was clearly barred by limitation. The Supreme Court quashed the GCM proceedings against the Colonel Rajvir Singh and observed that one feels sorry to see a trial on such serious charges being aborted on grounds of limitation but that is the mandate of the law.
The Supreme Court quashed the GCM proceedings and sentence passed. This is a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court of India where the limitation imposed by section 122 of the Army act, 1950 is held sacrosanct.