The Supreme Court has restored the punishment of the penalty of cashiering to Ex. Lt. Col. S. S. Bedi who was a Medical Specialist in the Indian Army Medical Corps found guilty of the charge of using criminal force against two women patients.
The Supreme Court held, “We restore the punishment of penalty of cashiering by taking into account the reprehensible conduct of the Appellant abusing a position of trust being a Doctor which is not condonable. However, we direct 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.”
A three-judge Bench of Justice Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and Ravindra Gupta was not convinced with the reasons given by the Tribunal for converting the sentence from cashiering to imposition of fine of Rs.50,000 and directed restoration of the punishment.
An appeal was filed by Ex. Lt. Col. S. S. Bedi challenged the judgment of the Armed Forces Tribunal, Principal Bench, New Delhi affirming order of his conviction by the General Court Martial.
The Tribunal had however converted the sentence of cashiering from service into a fine of Rs.50,000/- The Union of India had filed an appeal aggrieved by the alteration of sentence from cashiering from service to imposition of fine.
The Appellant Mr Bedi was commissioned in the Indian Army Medical Corps in 1966 and was posted at Base Hospital Lucknow as a Medical Specialist in 1984.
A complaint was made by two women against him in 1986 that he misbehaved with them during checkup by inappropriately touching their private parts. He was charged for committing a civil offence and 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 and was sentenced to be cashiered from service on 14th Jan 1987.
The conviction and sentence of the General Court Martial were challenged by the Petitioner before the Delhi High Court in the year 2010 and was transferred by the Delhi High Court to the Principal Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal, New Delhi. The Tribunal upheld the conviction of the Appellant but converted the punishment of cashiering to a fine of Rs.50,000/-.
The Counsel for the appellant Mr. Sridhar Potaraju, had submitted before the Supreme Court that the conviction of the Appellant is unsustainable as the evidence on record was not properly appreciated by both the General Court Martial and the Tribunal.
Additional Solicitor General appearing for the Respondent responded by contending that there was ample evidence on record pointing to the guilt of the Appellant which has been properly appreciated by the General Court Martial and the Tribunal.
He informed the Court that the Respondents are only concerned with the conversion of the penalty of cashiering to a fine of Rs.50,000, which according to then was unwarranted. The Appellant had misbehaved with two patients and the expert evidence also shows that there was no necessity of the Appellant touching the private parts of the complainant.
The Apex Court agreed with the conclusion of the General Court Martial and the Tribunal that the Appellant is guilty of the charge of using criminal force against two women patients and denied the contention that the conviction was unsustainable.
The Court noted that punishment that may be inflicted in respect of offences committed by persons under the Army Act are dealt with in Section 71 and according to Regulation 16 (a) of the Army Pension Regulations, 1961, the pension of an officer cashiered from service may be forfeited at the discretion of the President.
In the present case however forfeiture of the pension of the Appellant under Section 71 (h) has not been resorted to by the Respondents. The Court gave Respondents the liberty to commence proceedings under the Pension Regulations for forfeiture of the pension of the Appellant, if they desire.
The Apex Court was not convinced with the reasons given by the Tribunal for converting the sentence from cashiering to imposition of fine of Rs.50,000. The Court directed restoration of the punishment of penalty of cashiering by taking into account the reprehensible conduct of the Appellant abusing a position of trust being a Doctor which is not condonable.
However, the Court also 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. If they decide to not initiate proceedings under Army Pension Regulations, the Appellant would be entitled for all pensionary benefits.
Read the judgment here;21916_2012_36_1501_23210_Judgement_29-Jul-2020
-India Legal Bureau