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THE BASIS FOR THE CONVENING OF THE COURT OF INQUIRY IS THE ONE MAN INQUIRY REPORT – SC

Brigadier L.I. Singh YSM v. Union of India & Ors. Of Civil Appeal Nos. 9223- 9224 of 2019 on December 17, 2019

The bench comprising of  Justice L.Nageswara Rao and Justice Ajay Rastogi affirmed the judgment of the tribunal with modifications and ordered the court of inquiry afresh against the appellant.

The refusal of the Armed Forces Tribunal, Principal Bench, New Delhi to interfere with the disciplinary action initiated against the Appellant is the subject matter of these Appeals.

On the basis of the report submitted in the preliminary investigation (One Man Inquiry) and the verbal complaints made by officers and non commissioned officers to Brigadier R.K. Jha, a Court of Inquiry was convened. The General Inquiry Commander 33 Corps recorded a finding against the Appellant. A prima facie case was made against the Appellant and he was attached to the Headquarters, 20 Mountain Division in accordance with the provisions of Army Instructions 30 of 1986. The Appellant filed O.A. No.85 of 2013 in the Armed Forces Tribunal, Principal Bench, New Delhi challenging the order of attachment, which was dismissed by the Tribunal at the admission stage. Aggrieved by the said order of the Tribunal, the Appellant filed a Writ Petition in the High Court of Delhi.

In the meanwhile, the disciplinary proceedings were initiated against the Appellant by commencing hearing of charge in terms of Rule 22 of the Army Rules, 1954 on the basis of the tentative charge sheet. The Writ Petition was dismissed by an order giving liberty to the Appellant to pursue his remedies under Section 30 and 31 of the Armed Forces Tribunal Act, 2008.

A Review Application filed by the Appellant was allowed by the Tribunal and the Original Application was admitted. The original Application. was finally disposed of by directing the Respondent- Union of India to supply a copy of the one-man inquiry report to the Appellant and to commence the disciplinary proceedings against the Appellant. Applications filed by the Appellant for Review and Leave to Appeal to this Court were dismissed by the Tribunal. A copy of the one-man inquiry was handed over to the Appellant and recording of summary evidence, meanwhile, the Appellant retired from service. Thereafter, Section 123 of the Army Act was invoked to continue the disciplinary proceedings against the Appellant.

Before the Tribunal, the Appellant contended that the initiation of disciplinary proceedings against him was vitiated by mala fide. The main submission of the Appellant before the Tribunal was that a copy of the one-man inquiry report was not furnished. As the one-man inquiry report was the basis for initiation of the Court of Inquiry proceedings, it was contended that the Appellant was deprived of an opportunity to defend himself effectively before the Court of Inquiry. The Tribunal rejected his submission of any mala fide made against the Appellant. The Tribunal held that the Appellant was wrongfully denied a copy of the one-man inquiry report during the inquiry proceedings. The allegation of violation of Rule 180 made by the Appellant was not accepted by the Tribunal.

The Tribunal took note of the fact that the disciplinary proceedings were stalled due to cases pending in courts. While directing that the one-man inquiry report shall be handed over to the Appellant, the Tribunal directed the Respondents to complete the process of disciplinary proceedings. Learned counsel appearing for the Appellant made a valiant effort to convince that the initiation of disciplinary proceedings against the Appellant was due to extraneous considerations. The Tribunal directed the Respondents to provide a copy of the one-man inquiry report to the Appellant before continuing with the disciplinary proceedings against the Appellant.

The Supreme court pronounced that, There is no dispute that the basis for the convening of the Court of Inquiry is the one man inquiry report. Though not disturbing the findings of the Tribunal regarding the compliance of Rule 180 of the Army Rules, but considers that the direction given by the Tribunal requires modification. It put forth the fact that without the report of the one-man inquiry, the Appellant was certainly disabled from effectively defending himself in the Court of Inquiry.

Therefore, the Supreme court pronounced that the directions issued by the Tribunal that disciplinary proceedings be conducted afresh requires to be modified and the Court of Inquiry has to be conducted afresh.

–  Pranav M Varma

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