The Supreme Court will hear on March 29, an appeal filed by Lieutenant General Avadhesh Prakash, facing court of inquiry (CoI) in the Sukna land scam, questioning the Army Tribunal's order declining to quash the inquiry.
A three-judge Bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justices Deepak Verma and B.S. Chauhan, fixed the date of hearing after senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi pleaded for early listing. The CJI asked Additional Solicitor-General Indira Jaising not to insist on his cross-examination of witnesses till the matter was heard.
Mr. Rohatgi, quoting the Tribunal's order, said it was a case where the trial was not fair as witnesses were not examined in the presence of the appellant. The Tribunal had held that there was a violation of the principles of natural justice and the CoI was bad in law since he was not allowed to be present during the proceedings when the witnesses were examined.
The CJI told counsel: “You have been given relief. All witnesses have been recalled for cross-examination.” When counsel pointed out that the appellant, who was the 19th witness before CoI, was converted into an accused, the CJI said: “Under the law any witness can be turned into an accused and the judge can take cognisance and proceed against him.”
Lt. Gen. Prakash was indicted by an Army CoI for his alleged role in issuing a ‘No-objection Certificate' to a private realtor Dilip Agarwal for building an educational institute on a 71-acre land adjacent to the Sukna military station in West Bengal. He and Lt. Gen. P.K. Rath were facing the court of inquiry.
The Tribunal had held that the proceedings were bad in law and the inquiry was unfair but remanded the matter to the CoI with a direction for de novo examination of witnesses in his presence and permitting him to cross examine them. He was aggrieved that the Tribunal, instead of quashing the proceedings, had asked him to report before the CoI in Kolkata at the Army's Eastern Command HQ on March 14.
When he expressed his inability to appear on that date, citing his daughter's marriage, he was asked to report on March 16. However, he sought a week's time and in the meanwhile moved the Supreme Court seeking stay of the proceedings.
In his appeal, Lt. Gen. Prakash said he retired on January 31 and was likely to face disciplinary proceedings pursuant to the attachment order. He submitted that the CoI was bad in law as it was not in accordance with the Army Rule 180 which required that examination (recording of statements) of witnesses had to be done in the presence of the accused officer.
He said he received a show-cause notice on January 11 in which certain allegations, which were completely false and baseless, were levelled against him. The notice required him to explain why administrative action in the form of a censure be not taken against him.