The armed forces, who have access to advanced weapons and ammunition, have a duty to defend the country. So it would be shocking if it was found that army officers are busy selling weapons to outsiders.
This is why the Supreme Court lambasted the Army and the Centre on Tuesday for their lax attitude towards army officers illegally selling weapons, saying that their indifference "shocks the court's conscience".
A bench headed by Justice HL Dattu was hearing a six-year-old public interest litigation alleging that serving and retired Army officers were involved in illegal sale of arms. The petitioners had contended that only one inquiry on the matter was conducted in the South Western Command alone, and should have been done so in the other commands too. The petitioner's counsel argued that in certain cases, army officers were found involved in the sale of multiple weapons.
The Army had held a court of inquiry against some erring officers in November 2011 and handed out punishments raging from a fine of Rs 500 to a simple reprimand, the plea said. The Supreme Court bench termed these punishments a "pittance" and "an eyewash" and sought an explanation from the Army and the Centre.
"For a drunken brawl, you dismiss a cadet from service but here Colonels, Brigadiers and Generals are involved. Where is the discipline?" the bench asked Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi. "Taking into consideration the gravity of the offence, the punishment given is nothing but an eyewash. If ammunition falls into hands of terrorists what will happen? Senior officers like Lt Colonel, Brigadier, Major are involved, but the punishment is just severe displeasure."
Rohtagi said that army personnel are allowed to sell weapons but have to first take permission to do so. In this case, he said, no permission was taken. The bench asked the government to make its stance clear in two weeks. Justice Dattu further said: "We might have to enlarge the scope of the inquiry. Why don't we set aside the punishment given by court martial and ask you to redo it? The punishment given is pittance and it needs a CBI probe rather than a court martial."