|Major Gerneral Nilendra Kumar
New Delhi: Previous army chief VK Singh has earned the distinction of being the first head of the Indian land forces to be labelled as an accused and summoned to faced charges for offences triable under the law of crimes.
VK Singh is fortunate in not having to face the ignominy of receiving the summons while still holding the post of Army Chief. However, his number 2 officer; and Vice Chief of the Army staff S. K. Singh, Lt. Gen. BS Thakur, the Director General of Military Intelligence and Additional Director General of Public Information Maj Gen SL Narasimhan besides one colonel have been issued with summons while still in the service.
The charges against VK Singh and four serving officers relate to criminal defamation and criminal conspiracy. The charges on conviction may carry penalty of up to 2 years imprisonment, or with fine, or both.
In his complaint lodged with the court, Lt. Gen. Tejinder Singh, the complainant, had prayed for issue of summons and initiation of proceedings against the General VK Singh and four others for allegedly making defamatory statements against him in the media and accusing him of bribery. According to the complainant, the press release issued at the behest of VK Singh on 5/6th March 2012 was prima facie defamatory of his characters and reputation.
The defence Ministry has distanced itself from the press releases sent out by the Army Headquarters.
As the offences are of a criminal nature, it would be incumbent upon the accused officers to arrange for their own defences. A government servant is not allowed to to make use of government lawyers or the public expense to represent him for his defence of an offence attributed to to him
Defamation is a bailable offence. VK Singh and other co-accused may succeed in securing bails. The court is not bound to issue notice to Lt. Gen. Tejinder Singh and hear him while releasing one or more of the accused person.
This would be the first instance in the post-independence history of the Armed Forces when the two senior most officers of the Army have been named as accused of criminal acts. Never before were three officers of the general cadre directed to appear before a criminal court to face trial.
It is noteworthy that VK Singh had not sought a formal clearance from the Ministry of Defence before directing release of a press statement. Army act forbids in the officer to communicate with the press without prior official sanction. On the other hand, the Army’s Vice Chief, Director General Military Intelligence and the additional Director General of Public Information were duty bound to adhere the laid down rules and refrained from any unlawful or improper action to release a defamatory press release. It is also not known whether a proper legal advice was sought by these officers in such a matter that could tarnish the reputation of a three star general.
The former army chief: July 20, the next date of hearing, need to present himself before the trial court unless he succeeds before that date in getting an exemption from personal appearance from the High Court.
In its order, the Metropolitan Magistrate has found sufficient material to proceed against all the accused persons. The court has duly perused the evidence and material brought on record by the complainant.
VK Singh’s assertion about having been offered 14 crore rupees bribe which he verbally reported to the Defence Minister Antony lacks credibility primarily because he did not initiate a formal complaint in the matter. Nor did he himself initiate suitable action to follow up on such a serious charge although he was himself a material witness in the episode.
According to the criminal law rules and accused is presumed to be innocent till he is proved otherwise. Further, the responsibility to prove the charges against the accused persons would lie on Tejinder Singh.
The incident in all likelihood would make military officers henceforth careful in toeing the line of their superiors. It may be noted that a military person is duty bound to obey only the lawful commands of his superior. By corollary the subordinate officer is expected to turn down any unlawful or illegal direction emanating from a senior officer.
It is now the turn of the South Block to make the next move. According to well established military regulations, the Army leadership may be left with little option but to order suspension of accused officers who are still in service. The next logical step would be to claim the matter from the criminal court for trial under military law provisions. It is another matter that the government may develop cold feet.