The Supreme Court today said that the mechanism for sale of non-service pattern weapons (NSPs) must be under "strict" scrutiny and supervision of the authorities in accordance with the provisions of the Arms Act.
A bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur disposed of a PIL filed in 2007 alleging that a racket was being run by some army officers and bureaucrats by illegally procuring and selling NSP weapons from Central Ordnance Depot, Jabalpur.
"We reiterate the sentiment expressed in the orders passed by this Court from time to time to ensure that the mechanism for sale of NSP weapons must be under strict scrutiny and supervision of the Competent Authority in accord with the provisions of the Arms Act and the Rules framed thereunder including the Defence Services Regulations without any exception," a bench, which also comprised justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, said.
For their personal use, army personnel are issued weapons, known as NSP weapons, from ordnance depots.
The petition filed by advocate Arvind Kumar Sharma had claimed that the scam had surfaced in 2007 when authorities in Rajasthan's Ganganagar district noticed that several licences were issued to dubious persons, including terrorists,smugglers and rowdy elements, by local authorities without verification.
Sharma had said a probe by the government had exposed a larger racket in which several army officers, including those of the Major General rank, along with IAS and Rajasthan civil service officers, were allegedly found involved in the sale of NSP arms to dubious elements.
The apex court rejected Sharma's submission that the department has taken a "lenient" approach against erring army personnel and said the issue of "irregularities and illegalities" committed by the concerned officers has been redressed by the appropriate authority by taking suitable action against them.
"Considering the reports and the affidavits filed by the respective authorities from time to time in the present proceedings and being satisfied that suitable action has been taken by the appropriate authority of the State Government as well as Central Government against officers whose involvement has been noted in the independent enquiries made by the concerned department...
"and that as there is already a firm procedure prescribed for issuance of prohibited and non prohibited weapons in the shape of provisions of the Arms Act and the Rules framed thereunder and including the periodic instructions issued by the Department in that behalf, nothing more needs to be done," the bench said, while directing the Centre to pay Rs 10,000 to the petitioner.
The court said that affidavits have been filed from time to time by the appropriate authority which reveal that criminal action has been taken against the erring persons and expressed hope that the pending cases would be dealt with "expeditiously" in accordance with law.
"Had it been a case of all the Army officials being awarded same punishment or absolved and exonerated, that may have necessitated further probe by us. Merely because some other punishment could also be awarded, by itself, can be no ground to continue with the probe in this public interest petition.
"We find that suitable action has been taken against the erring Army Personnel. Further, as there is no material before us to even remotely suggest that the punishment awarded against any particular Army personnel is to favour him in any manner, nothing more is required to be done," the bench said.
The Centre had told the court that 73 army officials of various ranks have been punished with disciplinary action for illegal sale of weapons and issuance of licences to dubious persons and the punishment ranged from censure, demotions and withholding of increments.