Union Of India vs Chandra Bhushan Yadav on 17 January, 2020


Supreme Court of India

Union Of India vs Chandra Bhushan Yadav on 17 January, 2020

Author: L. Nageswara Rao

Bench: L. Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta

                                         Non-Reportable


         IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
          CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

            Civil Appeal No.18830 of 2017

Union of India & Ors.                .... Appellant(s)

                        Versus

Chandra Bhushan Yadav               …. Respondent(s)

                        WITH
            Civil Appeal No.7440 of 2018

                   JUDGMENT

L. NAGESWARA RAO, J.

1. The District Court Martial imposed a punishment of

dismissal of the Respondent from service and reduction

of the ranks apart from sentencing him to rigorous

imprisonment for three months. The Armed Forces

Tribunal, Regional Bench, Lucknow (for short “the

Tribunal”) set aside the order of the District Court

Martial aggrieved by which the Union of India has filed

this Appeal. The Respondent was enrolled in the Indian

Air Force in the trade of Equipment Assistant on

[1]
18.01.1988. He was posted to 402 Air Force Station,

Kanpur in August, 1997. The Respondent was assigned

duty in Diesel and Petrol Store on 02.02.2000.

Information was received from a civilian on 03.05.2000

that 7 barrels of diesel were unloaded in civil area at

Pappu Ka Plot at about 1400 hrs. on 02.05.2000. The

informant informed 4 Provost & Security (Unit), Air

Force, Kanpur, that he saw two airmen in uniform, out of

which one was of dark complexion. The informant

further stated that a similar incident of unloading of

barrels was observed by him on 20.04.2000 also as well.

2. A detailed report was sent by 4 Provost & Security

(Unit), Air Force, Kanpur by a letter dated 10.05.2000 in

which it was indicated that the Respondent-herein and

Corporal G.S. Mani, Equipment Assistant were involved

in taking out POL (Petrol, Oil & Lubricants) belonging to

Air Force Station, Kanpur. Air-Officer-Commanding, 402

Air Force Station, Kanpur directed a Court of Inquiry to

be convened. By its report dated 31.05.2000, the Court

of Inquiry found that DHPP quantity of 5800 Ltrs. and

[2]
petrol of 5000 Ltrs. was misappropriated by the

Respondent and the then Corporal G.S. Mani, Equipment

Assistant. According to the report, manipulation was

done by raising gate passes for a quantity more than

which was authorised by issuance of vouchers and

obtaining the signature of Senior Logistic Officer on such

gate passes. The said gate passes were used to take

out kerosene, diesel and petrol. A second set of

vouchers were prepared for the purpose of issuing gate

passes when items were taken out of guard room, which

were later destroyed after safe passage from the guard

room. The misappropriated items were disposed in the

civil area. On the basis of the said finding, the Court of

Inquiry recommended following actions :

(a) Initiate strict disciplinary action against Corporal

C.B. Yadav (Respondent) and others involved in the said

action;

(b) To make good the loss incurred due to such action

and to recover the cost of quantity DHPP 400 Ltrs. and

quantity 200 Ltrs. of petrol (Rs.68,520/-).

[3]

3. An Additional Court of Inquiry was ordered to

further investigate into certain other aspects not

covered by the Court of Inquiry. By the Report dated

12.07.2007, the Additional Court of Inquiry found that

the Respondent had prepared the gate passes in

advance on some occasions. The record of the Court of

Inquiry and Additional Court of Inquiry proceedings were

forwarded to the Head Quarters, Maintenance

Command on 26.07.2000. The Court of Inquiry

proceedings were approved by the AOC-in-C,

Maintenance Command, pursuant to which disciplinary

action was initiated against the Respondent and others.

A charge sheet was framed containing 14 charges and a

hearing of charge under Rule 24 of the Air Force Rules,

1969 (for short “the Rules”) was conducted before the

Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief. The AOC-in-C ordered

evidence to be recorded in writing. After considering

the summary of evidence, the AOC-in-C found that there

was insufficient evidence to sustain Charges 1 to 5 and

[4]
therefore, those charges were dropped. A charge sheet

containing fresh charges was issued.

4. On 27.08.2001, AOC-in-C Head Quarters,

Maintenance Command convened a District Court

Martial for trial of the Respondent. The District Court

Martial found the Respondent guilty and imposed a

punishment of dismissal from service and reduction of

the rank apart from sentencing the Respondent to

rigorous imprisonment for three months. The order

dated 25.10.2001 was set aside by the Tribunal. The

Respondent was directed to have been in continuous

service for the purpose of pension and other service

benefits. However, arrears of salary was confined to 50

per cent.

5. The Tribunal held that the allegation against the

Respondent being theft and misappropriation of

kerosene and diesel, the loss caused due to theft

required to be reported to the civil police as per Para

804(b) of the Regulations. By referring to Section 154 of

[5]
the Code
of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (for short “the Cr.

PC), the Tribunal held that it is mandatory that a First

Information Report (FIR) had to be registered in a

cognizable case. The Tribunal observed that the

Respondent was not given an opportunity in terms of

Rule 156 of the Rules during the Court of Inquiry

proceedings. In view of the violation of sub-rule (2), (6)

and (7) of Rule 156 of the Air Force Rules, the Tribunal

was of the view that the proceedings of the Court of

Inquiry were vitiated. The contention on behalf of the

Respondent that there was violation of Rule 24 of the

Rules and that the summary of evidence was also not

recorded in accordance with the prescribed procedure,

was not accepted by the Tribunal. Group Captain A.K.

Gurtu, Senior Personnel Staff Officer (SPSO), Head

Quarters for Air Officer, Commanding-in-Chief signed

the order by which the District Court Martial was

convened which, according to the Tribunal was in

violation of Section 111 of the Act and Rule 43(4) of the

Rules. The Tribunal observed that only the AOC-in-C is

[6]
competent to convene the District Court Martial. The

Tribunal re-appreciated the evidence and came to the

conclusion that the charges against the Respondent

were not proved beyond reasonable doubt.

First Information Report (FIR)

6. Mr. Vinay Kumar Garg, learned Senior Counsel

appearing on behalf of the Respondent submitted that

Para 804 (b) of the Regulations imposes an obligation

that a loss caused due to theft should be reported to the

civil police. He supported the finding of the Tribunal

that there is requirement of compulsory registration of

FIR in view of the provisions of Section 154 Cr. PC. Mr.

R. Balasubramanian, learned Senior Counsel appearing

for the Union of India submitted that Para 804(b) of the

Regulations is not mandatory. It is open to the

authorities to report a theft to the civil police if the

situation warrants. He submitted that the Air Force Act,

1950 and Air Force Regulations, 1964 govern the

conduct and discipline of the Air Force. The Air Force

Act, 1950 is a special law in which detailed procedure

[7]
for conducting of trial by a Court Martial has been

prescribed and no requirement for registration of an FIR

is mandatory under the Rules therein. The conduct of

trial including investigation is covered under Air Force

Act and the Rules. He referred to Section 5 of the Cr. PC

to submit that the Cr. PC is not applicable to the

personnel governed under the Air Force Act. He relied

upon the judgment of this Court in Ajmer Singh & Ors.

v. Union of India & Ors.1 in support of his argument.

7. In Ajmer Singh (supra), it was held as follows :

“7. Section 5 of the Code of Criminal
Procedure lays down that nothing contained in
the said Code shall, in the absence of a specific
provision to the contrary, affect any special or
local law for the time being in force, or any
special jurisdiction or power conferred, or any
special form of procedure prescribed, by any
other law for the time being in force. The
relevant Chapters of the Army Act, the Navy
Act
and the Air Force Act embody a completely
self-contained comprehensive Code specifying
the various offences under those Acts and

1 (1987) 3 SCC 340

[8]
prescribing the procedure for detention and
custody of offenders, investigation and trial of
the offenders by court martial, the
punishments to be awarded for the various
offences, confirmation and revision of the
sentences imposed by court martial, the
execution of such sentences and the grant of
pardons, remissions and suspensions in
respect of such sentences. These enactments,
therefore, constitute a special law in force
conferring special jurisdiction and powers on
court martial and prescribing a special form of
procedure for the trial of the offences under
those Acts. The effect of Section 5 of the Code
of Criminal Procedure is to render the
provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure
inapplicable in respect of all matters covered
by such special law. ”

8. It is clear from the above that the Air Force Act is a

special law conferring jurisdiction and powers on the

Court Martial and prescribing the procedure for trial of

offences. It is also clear that the Code of Criminal

Procedure is not applicable in respect of matters

covered by the Air Force Act. Hence, the finding

[9]
recorded by the Tribunal that it is mandatory for the

authorities to report the offences to civil police for

registration of an FIR is unsustainable. The Tribunal

further relied upon Para 804(b) of the Regulations to

hold that it is incumbent on the part of the authorities to

report an offence to the civil police for registration of an

FIR. Para 804(b) is as follows:

“804. Loss of Air Force Equipment and
Foodstuffs.

(a) .. ..

(b) A loss which is supposed to be due to theft
will be reported at once to the civil police,
when the circumstances warrant the course of
action. In any court of inquiry which may
subsequently be held, evidence will be taken to
show the date on which the loss was so
reported.”

9. There can be no doubt from a plain reading of the

Regulations that the reporting of an offence of theft to

the civil police is optional. Only when the circumstances

warrant such reporting to the civil police, the competent

officer can do so. For the aforementioned reasons, para

[10]
804 (b) of the Regulations of the Air Force Act cannot be

said to be mandatory.

Court of Inquiry:

10. The contention of the Respondent which was

accepted by the Tribunal relates to the violation of sub-

Rule (2), (6) and (7) of Rule 156. It is necessary to

reproduce sub-Rule (2), (6) and (7) of Rule 156 which

are as under :

“156. Courts of inquiry other than those
held under section 107.—
(1) .. ..

(2) Save in the case of a prisoner of war who is
still absent, whenever any inquiry affects the
character or service reputation of a person
subject to the Act, full opportunity must be
afforded to such person of being present
throughout the inquiry and of making any
statements and of giving any evidence he may
wish to make or give, and of cross-examining
and witness whose evidence, in his opinion,
affects his character or service reputation, and
producing any witnesses in defence of his
character or service reputation.
(3) .. ..

[11]
(4) .. ..

(5) .. ..

(6) The proceedings of a court of inquiry, or
any confession or statement or answer to a
question made or given at a court of inquiry,
shall not be admissible in evidence against a
person subject to Air Force Law, nor shall any
evidence respecting the proceedings of the
court be given against any such person except
upon the trial of such person for wilfully giving
false evidence before that court.

(7) Any person subject to the Act whose
character or service reputation is in the opinion
of the Chief of the Air Staff, affected by
anything in the evidence before or in the report
of a court of inquiry shall be entitled to a copy
of the proceedings of such court unless the
Chief of the Air Staff sees reason to order
otherwise.”

11. The Tribunal was of the view that the Respondent

was not given sufficient opportunity to defend himself

during the course of the proceedings before the Court of

Inquiry.

[12]

12. According to the Respondent, he was not permitted

to be present during the recording of statement of

witnesses. He was also deprived of an opportunity to

cross-examine the witnesses. The contention on behalf

of the Union of India is that the Respondent was given

an opportunity to make a statement and to cross-

examine witnesses. He was also given a chance to

produce documentary evidence. The Respondent made

a statement on 19.07.2000 to the effect that he did not

wish to cross-examine witnesses and to produce any

documentary evidence in his defence.

13. The statement made by the Respondent was

produced before us which indicates that he did not

utilize the opportunity given to him. Therefore, it

cannot be held that there is violation of Rule 156 of the

Rules and the Tribunal committed an error in holding

that the proceedings of Court of Inquiry are vitiated.

Convening Order:

14. The contention of the Respondent is that Group

Captain A.K. Gurtu, Senior Personnel Staff Officer

[13]
(SPSO), Head Quarters MC IAF signed the order by which

the District Court Martial was convened. It is urged that

AOC-in-C is the competent authority to convene the

Court Martial. The Union of India justified the order by

which the District Court Martial was convened in

accordance with the Air Force Rules.

15. Section 111 of the Air Force Act provides that

District Court Martial may be convened by an officer

having power to convene a General Court Martial, or by

an officer empowered by warrant of any such officer.

Rule 43 deals with convening of General and District

Court Martials. Rule 43(4) which is relevant for our

purpose reads as under :

“43. Convening of general and district court-

martial. —

(4) After the convening officer has appointed or
detailed the officer to form a Court-Martial
under sub-rule (3), convening order of the
Court-Martial and endorsement on the charge-
sheet for trial of the accused by court-martial
may either be signed by convening officer or

[14]
by a staff officer on his behalf. The charge
sheet on which the accused to be tried, the
summary of evidence and the convening order
for assembly of Court-Martial shall then be sent
to the senior officer of Court-Martial and the
Judge Advocate, if appointed.”

16. In Union of India & Ors. v. Ex. Flt. Lt. G.S.

Bajwa2, this Court examined the issue pertaining to the

authority competent to convene the Court Martial and

held as follows:

“44. A ground was taken before the High
Court (Ground f) that the convening of the
General Court Martial was signed by an officer,
in whose name no delegation or such authority
had ever been made. In reply thereto the
appellant had submitted that the convening
order was signed by the said officer on behalf
of the Air Officer In-charge Personnel, who had
after due application of mind, issued the order
for convening the above Court Martial. It was
not disputed before us that the Air Officer In-

charge Personnel (AOP) was empowered to
convene a Court Martial. The only question
which, therefore, requires consideration is
2 (2003) 9 SCC 630

[15]
whether the order convening the General Court
Martial was passed by the AOP and it was only
formally communicated under signatures of
the Air Commodore concerned or whether the
Air Commodore named therein, who was not
empowered, himself passed the convening
order. With a view to avoid any controversy on
this factual position, we directed the appellant
to produce before us the original file. We have
perused the file and we find that the order for
convening the General Court Martial was
approved by Air Marshal D.A. LaFontaine, AOP.
There is, therefore, no force in the submission
that the convening order was unauthorized
and, therefore, illegal.”

17. The order dated 18.08.2001 by which the District

Court Martial was convened is issued in the name of Air

Marshall S.S. Gupta, PVSM, AVSM, VSM, ADC, Air Officer

Commanding-in-Chief, Maintenance Command. There is

no doubt that the order was signed by Group Captain

A.K. Gurtu, SPSO, Head Quarters MC IAF who is the

Personnel Staff Officer for Air Officer Commanding-in-

Chief, Maintenance Command, IAF. Rule 43(4) provides

that a convening order may be signed by the
[16]
Commanding Officer or by the Senior Staff Officer on his

behalf. The fact that Group Captain A.K. Gurtu was the

Senior Personnel Staff officer for the AOC-in-C

Maintenance Command, IAF is not in dispute. A perusal

of the Record reveals that the convening order had the

approval of the competent authority and as such, it

cannot be termed as unauthorized. Another submission

that was made by the learned Senior Counsel for the

Respondent is that according to the Organizational

Chart of Head Quarters MC IAF it is only Senior Air &

Administrative Staff Officer (SAASO) who can be the

Staff Officer of the AOC-in-C. The said submission was

countered by the learned Senior Counsel for the Union

of India. It was contended that that Group Captain A.K.

Gurtu was Senior Personnel Staff Officer (SPSO) and

lesser than that of Senior Air & Administrative Staff

Officer (SAASO) in the hierarchy. There is no

requirement that only SAASO can be the Staff Officer to

AoC-in-C. Even Officers lower than SAASO can be

appointed as Staff Officers. According to Mr. R.

[17]
Balasubramanian, learned Senior Counsel, it is evident

from the order itself that Group Captain A.K. Gurtu who

is Senior Personnel Staff Officer (SPSO) was the Staff

Officer and competent to sign the convening order.

18. The convening order which was signed by the Staff

Officer of the AOC-in-C is in accord with Rule 43(4) of

the Rule and no fault can be found with the order. The

Tribunal committed an error in holding that the

convening order was by an officer who was not

competent.

Charges 5 & 6

19. The District Court Martial found the Respondent

guilty of Charges 1, 2, 5 and 6. He was exonerated of

Charges 3 and 4. The confirmation authority held

that there was no sufficient evidence in relation to

Charges 1 and 2 and they were dropped. What remains

to be seen is whether Charges 5 & 6 are established.

Charges 5 & 6 are as follows:


Fifth Charge Committing Criminal Breach of Trust

[18]
in Respect of property belonging to
the Govt.

In that he,
At 402 AF Station, on 20 April 2000,
being the NCO i/c POL, Stores of 402
AF Station and in that capacity
entrusted with POL Stores of the unit,
dishonestly misappropriated 1400
Ltrs of DHPP(N), by raising IAFF(Q)
Section 52(c)
429 No.EX/IV/P/10 (2000-2001) for
Air Force Act,
200 ltrs of Petrol 87 MT 800 ltrs of
1950
DHPP(N), but physically issuing
702670-K Cpl Mani GS Eqpt Asst of 7
AF Hospital 200 ltrs of Petrol 87 MT,
2200 ltrs DHPP(N) and nil Kerosene
oil quantity, by writing quantity 200
ltrs of Petrol 87 MT, 800 Ltrs of
DHPP(N) and 1400 ltrs of kerosene Oil
on gate pass No.3129 dated 29 April
2000.

Sixth charge Committing criminal breach of trust in
Section 52(c) respect of property belonging to the
Air Force Act, Govt.

1950 In that he,
At 402 AF Station, on 02 May 2000
being the NCO i/c POL, stores of 402
AF Station and in that capacity

[19]
entrusted with POL stores of the unit,
dishonestly misappropriated 1400 lrts
of DHPP(N), by making use of two
sets of IAFF(Q) 429 bearing same
serial No.EX/IV/P/16 (2000-20010 for
a single transaction of issue of POL to
7 AF Hospital first set (receipted blue)
showing issue of 2400 ltrs of
Kerosene oil only and second set
(original black) showing issue of 2400
ltrs of kerosene oil and 1400 ltrs of
DHPP(N), and physically issuing to
702670-K Cpl Mani GS Eqpt Asst of 7
AF Hospital as per second set and
gate pass No.3131 dated 02 May
2000.

20. The Tribunal on a reconsideration of the evidence

on record concluded that Charges 5 and 6 were not

established beyond reasonable doubt. PW1 Corporal

M.K. Sharma failed to identify the signatures appended

on the vouchers. PW2 Sergeant L. Singh who was the

Record Keeper in Security Section deposed that he was

not aware as to who was responsible for the issuance of

[20]
kerosene oil. W.O. S.K. Singh who was examined as

PW3, does not remember the dates and data with

regard to deficiencies of POL. He stated that no

deficiency was found in POL during the weekly snap

checks from February-May, 2000. He further stated that

the Respondent was not related to issuance of kerosene

oil during the months of February-May, 2000. Wing

Commander J.K. Chakraborty who appeared as PW4

admitted that there was no deficiency of diesel at the

time of handing and taking over of duty by the

Respondent. PW5 Flight Lieutenant Arvind Kumar had

no personal knowledge of the evidence as he was on

leave. However, he stated that there was no surplus or

deficiency of POL. PW6 Corporal G.S. Mani admitted to

unloading seven empty barrels at Pardevanpurwa on

20.04.2000 at the request of the Respondent. He

further stated that an amount of Rs.1,500/- was forcibly

given by the Respondent. He also stated that he carried

20 barrels for collecting 2400 liters of kerosene oil and

again collected seven barrels on 02.05.2000. During

[21]
cross-examination, he was confronted with his previous

statement wherein he stated that he was coerced to

make a statement against the Respondent. In view of

the contradictions made by PW6 who is the co-accused,

the Tribunal held that he is not a reliable witness. PW7

Corporal S. Singh categorically stated that the loading of

barrels containing POL was at the behest of Corporal

G.S. Mani. PW8 Hasan R. Lascar who was working in the

Medical Ward stated that he loaded empty barrels on

the instructions of Corporal G.S. Mani. PW9 Rajendra

Prasad Lascar also stated that loading and off loading of

diesel at Pardevanpurwa was in the presence of

Corporal G.S. Mani.

21. We have examined the evidence to satisfy

ourselves as to whether there is any iota of evidence

against the Respondent. It appears from the evidence

that Corporal G.S. Mani was actively involved in the

transportation of diesel barrels and loading and off

loading in the civil area. Curiously no action was taken

against Corporal G.S. Mani. There is no evidence on

[22]
record to connect the Respondent to the offence of

illegal transportation of POL. Though we are not in

agreement with the Tribunal on the other issues, in view

of lack of any evidence against the Respondent, we are

inclined to uphold the judgment of the Tribunal. The

Appeal is dismissed.

Civil Appeal No.7440 of 2018

22. This appeal has been filed by the Respondent

aggrieved by the directions of the Tribunal that the

Appellant shall pay only 50 per cent of the arrears of salary.

After considering the submissions of the learned Senior

Counsel, we are not inclined to interfere with the order of

the Tribunal. The appeal is accordingly dismissed.

..…………………………..J.
[L. NAGESWARA RAO]

…….………………………J.

[DEEPAK GUPTA]

New Delhi,
January 17, 2020.

[23]



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