illegal selling of “Prohibited/NSP bore-weapons” obtained by the Army Personnel through Central Ordinance Depot (COD), Jabalpur on the basis of the order passed by the Allotment Committee. It is alleged that the weapons have been sold to the general public including to persons with criminal records, in breach of relevant Rules and provisions of the Arms Act, 1959. The petitioner has relied on the enquiry report of the Collector, Sriganganagar, dated 3rd July, 2007 which, according to him, has enlisted the names of Army Personnel, who had indulged in illegal sale of such prohibited weapons to the general public and people having a criminal background, including anti-social elements and terrorists. The petitioner has also referred to another instance of registration of various cases by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) under Sections 465, 468, 471 and 420 read with 120-B IPC in the District of Jammu regarding issuance of around 30,000 armed licenses by the concerned officials/District Magistrate between 1994 to 1998.

NON-REPORTABLE

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION

WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) No. 462/2007

Arvind Kumar Sharma ….….Petitioner

Versus

Union of India & Ors. ….Respondents

J U D G M E N T

A.M. KHANWILKAR, J.

1. This Writ Petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India has
been filed by an Advocate practicing before this Court raising public
interest issue regarding illegal selling of “Prohibited/NSP bore-weapons”
obtained by the Army Personnel through Central Ordinance Depot (COD),
Jabalpur on the basis of the order passed by the Allotment Committee. It is
alleged that the weapons have been sold to the general public including to
persons with criminal records, in breach of relevant Rules and provisions
of the Arms Act, 1959. The petitioner has relied on the enquiry report of
the Collector, Sriganganagar, dated 3rd July, 2007 which, according to him,
has enlisted the names of Army Personnel, who had indulged in illegal sale
of such prohibited weapons to the general public and people having a
criminal background, including anti-social elements and terrorists. The
petitioner has also referred to another instance of registration of various
cases by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) under Sections 465, 468,
471 and 420 read with 120-B IPC in the District of Jammu regarding issuance
of around 30,000 armed licenses by the concerned officials/District
Magistrate between 1994 to 1998. That has been enquired into. The enquiry
revealed active connivance between various arms dealers of Jammu, Delhi,
Punjab & Haryana and Rajasthan in violation of established procedure
prescribed by the Arms Act; and that in majority of cases the original
addressee/applicant was not traceable at the given address. According to
the petitioner, the licensing authority even in the State of Rajasthan and
in particular Sriganganagar District, a border State of India have
reportedly granted Arms Licenses without due verification. The petitioner
has relied on newspaper reports in the State of Rajasthan to buttress this
plea. He also relies on the enquiry report dated 03.07.2007 of the
Collector, Sriganganagar. According to the petitioner, no follow up action
has been taken by the concerned Authority of the State of Rajasthan in
spite of the said report. The petitioner has, therefore, prayed that an
enquiry be directed through an independent agency like CBI to unravel the
conspiracy and to take action against the concerned officers including Army
Personnel involved in the stated arms license scandal in the District of
Sriganganagar, Rajasthan. Direction is also sought against the Home
Ministry, State of Rajasthan to forthwith cancel all licenses issued
without due verification/identification in violation of Arms Act, 1959. The
petitioner has also sought direction against the Union of India to strictly
follow the provisions of the Arms Act, 1959; and to frame strict guidelines
mandating all the officials/licensing authority of the States throughout
the Country to ensure due verification through the Home Ministry on the
basis of report called from the concerned Police Station about the
antecedents of the applicant and not by the Collector, before issuing
license. It is further prayed that the Ministry of Defence, Government of
India, must initiate appropriate action against the concerned Army
Personnel who have been named by the Collector in the preliminary enquiry
report dated 3rd July, 2007.

2. After notice was issued by the Court, the respondents in particular
State Authorities were called upon to produce enquiry report of the
Additional District Collector, Sriganganagar in a sealed cover. That report
has been submitted. As the matter proceeded, the Court vide order dated
30th July, 2010 issued further directions to the State of Rajasthan to
place on record a status report regarding the proceedings initiated after
registration of FIR. The Court perused the affidavit filed by the Major
O.P. Sharma who was serving as Adjutant 1, Air Formation Signal Regiment,
New Delhi, wherein it is mentioned that out of 41 officers, one JCO and 4
retired officers, who had sold their Non Service Pattern (NSP) weapon in
violation of the provisions of the Arms Act and Special Army Order
1/S/1996, four officers retrieved their weapons and administrative action
against them was in progress. Six officers had retired. The civil
administration was asked to proceed against all the 10 retired officers.
The remaining officers were facing disciplinary action under the Army Act
for which necessary action was initiated. The Court, however, recorded its
dissatisfaction and called upon the Ministry of Defence to file a proper
and comprehensive affidavit giving details about the action taken against
the officers concerned. In furtherance of this direction, affidavit has
been filed by the authorized officer, on 18th February, 2011. The Court
after perusing the relevant record regarding the details and status of the
investigation in 14 First Information Reports/Cases and the affidavit of
Additional Superintendent of Police, Sriganganagar observed that in view of
the magnitude and seriousness of the allegations leveled against some of
the IAS Officers in the State, the Chief Secretary of the State must file a
comprehensive status report along with a proper affidavit. Accordingly, the
Chief Secretary filed affidavit, sworn on 8th March, 2011, giving relevant
information about the progress of the respective cases. Further status
reports have been filed from time, to time during the further hearing.

3. On 30th April, 2013, the petitioner appearing in person had argued
that in spite of the gravity of the misconduct/criminal offences committed
by numerous Army Personnel ranging from the lower ranks to the higher
ranks, the Army authorities have failed to initiate appropriate action
against them. The Court after recording this contention and perusing the
relevant facts and status reports found that before any effective order
could be passed it would be appropriate for the Ministry of Defence to file
an affidavit setting out the latest position including the details of any
orders of disciplinary action/punishment which may have been passed against
the officers/Army personnel. The Court further directed that the affidavit
should specifically mention about the status of action taken against the
officers named in the enquiry report dated 15th July, 2007. The State of
Rajasthan was also directed to submit latest status report as to the
progress made in various criminal/disciplinary proceedings including
against any I.A.S. Officers. Accordingly, additional affidavit of Director,
Ministry of Defence has been filed (at pages 500-512) giving relevant
information about the action taken against the Army Personnel and status of
those proceedings including the status of pending proceedings. Along with
the affidavit, specific information regarding the action taken against the
concerned Army Personnel including by way of disciplinary action has been
placed on record in the form of a chart annexed as Appendix-A. Appendix-A
mentions about the action taken against 25 officers involved in importing
ammunition in excess of authorization. After enquiry, the Competent
Authority has awarded Severe Displeasure (Non-Recordable) by General
Officer-in-Command, South Western Command. In another chart annexed to the
affidavit as Appendix-B, summary of administrative action initiated against
twelve officers who retrieved and deposited weapons is mentioned. Some of
them have been awarded severe displeasure (recordable) and in some cases
non-recordable. Chart annexed as Appendix-C to the affidavit gives summary
of disciplinary action initiated against another twenty five Army Personnel
who were involved in sale of a single weapon. Punishment of severe
reprimand/reprimand with fine has been awarded in some cases and in other
cases forfeiture of one year service for the purpose of promotion has been
awarded. In chart Appendix-D, details of 10 cases of retired officers is
mentioned. Their proposals are referred to Civil Administration and were
being processed. Similarly, the Chief Secretary of the State of Rajasthan
filed further affidavit dated 19th July, 2013 (at pages 513-538), giving
latest status of criminal proceedings/disciplinary proceedings.

4. In the context of punishment awarded to the Army Personnel the
petitioner contends that the department has taken a lenient approach.
According to him, the punishment ought to have been more severe. The
argument though attractive at the first blush on a deeper scrutiny does not
commend to us. For, the appropriate authority has taken into account all
the attending circumstances before awarding punishment to the concerned
Army Personnel. Had it been a case of all the Army Officials being awarded
same punishment or absolved and exonerated, that may have necessitated
further probe by us. Merely because some other punishment could also be
awarded, by itself, can be no ground to continue with the probe in this
public interest petition. We find that suitable action has been taken
against the erring Army Personnel. Further, as there is no material before
us to even remotely suggest that the punishment awarded against any
particular Army Personnel is to favour him in any manner, nothing more is
required to be done.

5. Indeed, the issue raised by the petitioner has resulted in unraveling
of the irregularities and illegalities committed by the concerned officers.
That, however, has now been redressed by the appropriate authority by
taking suitable action against the erring Army Personnel. The affidavits
filed from time to time by the appropriate authority also revealed that
criminal action is instituted against the erring persons, which, in most
cases, has been taken to its logical end and some are pending trial. As
regards the pending cases, we have no doubt that the appropriate
Authority/Court will take the same to its logical end expeditiously in
accordance with law.

6. Reverting to the response filed by the State of Rajasthan, Chief
Secretary in his affidavit sworn on 8th March, 2011, it is stated that the
State Government has investigated the matter in right earnest and also
accorded sanction against the concerned Government officials. Four members
of the Rajasthan Administrative Services (RAS) were suspended and sanction
to prosecute them was also granted. Details of criminal cases have been
noted in this affidavit. This affidavit has also placed on record that
there are other 304 suspected licences and those cases were under scrutiny.
Assurance was given in this affidavit that the scrutiny in that behalf will
be done within six months time. In the subsequent affidavit filed by the
State of Rajasthan sworn on 2nd August, 2011, the progress about the
criminal cases has been revealed. This affidavit mentions that only one
criminal case was pending for investigation and in one case prosecution
sanction was awaited. Further affidavit of the Chief Secretary of
Government of Rajasthan sworn on 19th July, 2013, was filed to place on
record the latest status report about the charge sheet filed in various
criminal cases. It also mentions about the status of disciplinary
proceedings initiated against two officers of the State. From the
affidavits filed from time to time, it is noticed that suitable action has
been taken against all persons found involved during the enquiry, by way of
criminal proceedings or disciplinary proceedings, as the case may be. With
regard to action taken by the State Government no specific grievance has
been made by the petitioner about its inadequacy or inertia in the progress
of disciplinary proceedings. A general submission is made that the response
filed by the State Government is a total eye wash. At the same time, no
material is brought to our notice which would suggest that the criminal
cases instituted by the State against its erring officers was insufficient
measure or that the State has failed to take action against any particular
person or Government officer who was found to be involved as per the
enquiry report. As regards the criminal cases, the progress of those cases
has been placed on record. As observed in the case of action taken by the
Ministry of Defence, we may reiterate that the appropriate Authority/Court
will take the proceedings pending before it to its logical end
expeditiously in accordance with law.

7. As regards the prayer to issue direction to the Home Ministry to
frame guidelines in the matter of issuing Arms licenses, it is stated that
the licensing authority in respect of prohibited bore weapons is with the
Central Government. The Ministry of Home Affairs processes the applications
strictly as per the provisions of the Arms Act, 1959 and the Rules framed
thereunder. Whereas, the District Magistrate is the licensing authority for
non prohibited bore weapons. As per the extant regulations, the licensing
authority is obliged to seek report of the officer in-charge of the nearest
police station to verify the antecedents of the applicant; and only those
who fulfill the prescribed norms are granted license. While processing the
applications, the District Magistrate is also obliged to consider such
report and grant arms license for non prohibited weapons only to persons
who may be residing within the local limits of the District Magistrate
including after due verification of antecedents of the applicant.

8. Considering the reports and the affidavits filed by the respective
authorities from time to time in the present proceedings and being
satisfied that suitable action has been taken by the appropriate authority
of the State Government as well as Central Government against officers
whose involvement has been noted in the independent enquiries made by the
concerned department; and that as there is already a firm procedure
prescribed for issuance of prohibited and non prohibited weapons in the
shape of provisions of the Arms Act and the Rules framed thereunder and
including the periodical instructions issued by the Department in that
behalf, nothing more needs to be done.

9. Accordingly, we deem it appropriate to dispose of this petition with
observation that the appropriate Authorities/Court must dispose of the
pending matter(s) if any, expeditiously in accordance with law.

10. We place on record our appreciation for the initiative taken by the
petitioner in filing this petition and bringing to the fore such a
sensitive issue, which otherwise may have gone unnoticed.

11. While parting, we reiterate the sentiment expressed in the orders
passed by this Court from time to time to ensure that the mechanism for
sale of NSP weapons must be under strict scrutiny and supervision of the
Competent Authority in accord with the provisions of the Arms Act and the
Rules framed thereunder including the Defence Services Regulations without
any exception.

12. With the above observations, we dispose of this petition with costs.
We direct the Union of India to pay cost quantified at Rs.10, 000/-, to
the petitioner. As the petition is disposed in terms of this order, the
original record kept in sealed cover be returned back to the counsel for
the concerned respondent.

.………………………….CJI
(T.S.Thakur)

..……………………………J.
(A.M. Khanwilkar)

……………………………..J.
(Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud)
New Delhi,
August 16, 2016

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