The Supreme Court has set aside an Army Court of Inquiry (COI) which indicted a Brigadier on allegations of borrowing money from junior officers and contractors and financial impropriety, and ordered the force to hold a fresh probe into the matter.
The case against Brigadier LI Singh, who retired in April, 2019, had been going on since 2012 after his successor in the 164 Mountain Brigade in Sikkim and higher-ups in Sukna-based 33 Corps ordered a one-man inquiry followed up by a COI for the alleged borrowings in Sikkim and misappropriating government property from his official residence.
In the Supreme Court and the Armed Forces Tribunal, the officer, through his counsel Major Sudhanshu Pandey, had contended that since the one-man inquiry was the basis for the COI and he was not given an opportunity to question the witnesses, the inquiry should be scrapped.
The inquiry process was initiated against the officer from Manipur in 2012 soon after he had served a show-cause notice to the then 3 Corps Commander Lt General Dalbir Singh in the Jorhat Dacoity case.
General Dalbir later went on to become the Chief of Army Staff in 2014.
Brig Singh had not been provided with a copy of the one-man inquiry held against him in the case and he had to take it through the court long after the COI had been initiated against him.
The Supreme Court, in its judgement on December 17, 2019, said that there is no dispute that the basis for the convening of the COI is the one-man inquiry report. “We are of the considered opinion that the direction given by the Tribunal requires modification. Without the report of the one-man inquiry, the officer was certainly disabled from effectively defending himself in the COI,” the bench said.
Noting that the officer must get an opportunity to question and cross-examine the witnesses, the top court said, “We affirm the judgment of the Tribunal with the modification mentioned above. The COI shall be held against the Appellant afresh.”
The Court in its 18-page order said since the officer has retired from service; the COI may be initiated and completed expeditiously.
Brig LI Singh has been maintaining that he has been “falsely implicated” in the case due to a perceived clash between the then Chief of Army Staff General VK Singh and General Dalbir Singh Suhag.