Author- Astha Tyagi
The Supreme Court on Wednesday held the conversion of punishment of cashiering to a fine of Rs. 50,000/- by the Armed Forces Tribunal on insufficient grounds and restored punishment of cashiering against the appellant, EX Lt. Col. S S Bedi.
Two Appeals were preferred against the judgment of the aforementioned Tribunal by which the conviction of Ex. Lt. Col. S. S. Bedi by the General Court Martial was affirmed. Though the tribunal converted the sentence of cashiering from service into a fine of Rs.50,000/-, it dismissed the application filed by Ex. Lt. Col. S. S. Bedi for permission to file an appeal due to which the aggrieved appellant filed Criminal Appeal No.997 of 2013. The Union of India filed Criminal Appeal No.13 of 2013 aggrieved by the alteration of a sentence from cashiering from service to imposition of a fine.
The Appellant was commissioned in the Indian Army Medical Corps on 24.07.1966. While he was posted at Base Hospital Lucknow as a Medical Specialist a complaint was made by two women against the Appellant on 15.05.1986 that he misbehaved with them during checkup by inappropriately touching their private parts.
Based on the summary of the evidence, the convening authority directed the trial of the Appellant by the General Court Martial. On 29.11.1986, a charge sheet was filed against the Appellant. He was charged for committing a civil offence, that is to say, using criminal force on two women with intent to outrage their modesty, contrary to Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). The Appellant was held guilty by the General Court Martial on 09.12.1986 and was sentenced to be cashiered from service on 14.01.1987.
The learned counsel appearing for the Appellant contended that the conviction of the Appellant was unsustainable due to a lack of proper appreciation of evidence submitted before both the General Court Martial and the Tribunal. He argued that the physical examination of both the complainants was necessary for the ailment they were suffering from, i.e. bronchial asthma and duodenal ulcer, which can be further corroborated with the testimony of Mrs Geeta and Lt. Col. R. Sharma.
Mr Vikramjit Banerjee, learned Additional Solicitor General appearing for the Respondent contended that ample evidence is present on record to determine the guilt of the Appellant which has been adequately appreciated by the General Court Martial and the Tribunal and it has been further corroborated with the expert evidence that also shows that there was no necessity of the Appellant touching the private parts of the complainants. The Respondents argued that thus the conversion of the sentence by the Tribunal was unwarranted.
The appellant counsel further argued that in the absence of any order as contemplated in Section 71( h) of the Army Act, 1950, the appellant is still entitled to the payment of pensionary benefits. He relied upon the judgments of this Court in Union of India v. Brig. P.K. Dutta (Retd.) and Union of India v. P.D. Yadav.
The court after determining the merit in the case held that there was a lack of sufficient reason provided by the tribunal for the conversion of the sentence and from the punishment of cashiering to fine of Rs. 50,000/- and restored the punishment of penalty of cashiering by taking into account the reprehensible conduct of the Appellant in abusing a position of trust is a Doctor. However, the court directed the Respondents to consider the entire record of service of the Appellant and his advanced age while taking a decision to initiate proceedings under the Army Pension Regulations. In case the Respondents decide not to initiate proceedings under Army Pension Regulations, the Appellant shall be entitled to all pensionary benefits. The amount of Rs.50,000/- deposited by the Appellant shall be refunded to him with interest accrued from there.