The Supreme Court has restored the honour of an Army veteran who was among the officers who led the Operation Blue Star in 1984 and upheld a decision to exonerate him of charges of alleged misconduct and award him a rank of Lieutenant Colonel post-retirement.
The top court upheld the decision of Armed Forces Tribunal setting aside the “punishment of reprimand” awarded to Major (now retd) Kunwar Ambreshwar Singh on charge of retaining certain electronic items recovered during the operation to flush out Sikh extremists from the Golden Temple Complex.
A bench of Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bushan dismissed the appeal of the Centre against the AFT order but reduced the cost imposed on the government from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 1 lakh.
“We see no merit in this appeal and the same is, accordingly, dismissed. However, we find that the costs of Rs 10 lakhs imposed upon the appellant is quite excessive. We reduce the said costs to Rs 1 lakh,” the bench said.
The AFT, Lucknow, in its verdict on August 11 last year had exonerated Singh of all charges and set aside the order passed by the Chief of the Army Staff refusing to grant substantive rank of Lt Col by time scale to him and all other directions which deprived him promotional avenues.
It had said, the government will promote Singh notionally on the substantive rank of Lt Col (Time Scale) along with his batchmates for the purpose of payment of arrears of salary and post-retiral dues, pension and other benefits.
“The effect of Operation Blue Star of June, 1984 still haunting and the present case is offshoot of said operation wherein a commissioned officer of Indian Army is struggling for justice since last 33 years,” the tribunal had observed.
Singh was commissioned in the Army in 1967. As a Major in the 26 Madras Regiment in June 1984, he was posted at Jalandhar as part of the 38 Infantry Brigade and 15 Infantry Division. It was then that he was assigned the task to flush out Sikh extremists from the temple complex in Amritsar.
The tribunal in its order noted that Singh, following the command of his superior Lt Col KMG Pannikar, led initial entry into Golden Temple Complex and apprehended one of the Sevadars of Jarnail Singh Bhindrawala.
He also apprehended a large number of extremists, recovered a huge cache arms, ammunition, explosives and documents and had made clearance of Western and Southern Parikrama, final clearance of Akal Takht, neutralization of Gurdwara at Dukh Bhajan Berry, the facts not denied by the Army or the government.
After the completion of the operations, the officer was undisputedly recommended for Ashok Chakra. The government did not categorically deny the fact of recommendation of the gallantry award to Singh, but maintained it was a confidential record and may have been weeded out.
The tribunal noted that the problem started on June 8, 1984, when some troops of the Unit recovered four electronic items, which included one Videocassette Recorder, one-three-in-one music system, one Akai Deck and one colour TV.
“The items were brought to Battalion Headquarters in presence of Lt Col Pannikar. According to the petitioner, troops requested that these items should be kept as souvenirs, which was acceded by Lt Col Pannikar. It was Lt Col Pannikar, who instructed Capt Rajiv Chopra to bring the four electronic items and keep them in Unit Lines at Jalandhar,” the tribunal order said.
It said that Army and the government have failed to establish even an iota of charges against Singh who seems to have been “arbitrarily and vexatiously” prosecuted and punished.
The tribunal said that those who actually took the decision to retain the items as souvenir have been promoted to higher ranks and enjoyed higher status and rank of army service and a person who has worked hard with appreciation in his service career, recommendee of Ashok Chakra, suffered because of no fault.
“There appears to be gross injustice done to the petitioner’s career. He has been made an escape goat, who suffered because of incorrect decision and wrong committed by the then Lt Col Pannikar, who was the Commanding Officer of the petitioner,” it said.
The AFT had set aside a court of Inquiry finding which had blamed five officers, including Singh, for illegal detention of four electronic items.
“We have noticed that from the finding and opinion expressed by the Court of Inquiry and the statements of the witnesses under Court of Inquiry, no case is made out solely against the petitioner. No recovery was done from petitioner’s house. Items were recovered from his neighbour’s house…,”the tribunal had noted.