An army man, who was sacked for insubordination nearly 19 years ago, has now got relief, thanks to an order of the Regional Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) here.

The Bench, comprising Justice V. Periya Karuppiah and Lt. Gen. Anand Mohan Verma, set aside the punishment of six months’ imprisonment and dismissal from service, imposed on him by a summary court martial (SCM), holding that it was too harsh.

C. Chellathurai of Nagercoil was working as Driver, Grade II, and posted to a unit in Siliguri, West Bengal. During a Sainik Sammelan conducted by the unit’s Commanding Officer in 1994, he said he would not be able to perform guard duty at night as he was not trained. His statement was construed as insubordination. Consequently, he was tried for the offence by a SCM and awarded six months’ rigorous imprisonment and dismissal from service. His appeal against the sentence was rejected by the Chief of the Army Staff in 1996. His representation in 2006 to the Defence Secretary was also rejected. After a delay of 5,607 days, Mr. Chelladurai filed an application seeking the quashing of the court-martial proceedings and for his reinstatement will all consequential benefits.

Counsel for Mr. Chelladurai contended that he expressed his opinion in a very humble manner and such expression could not be construed as insubordination. The punishment was not commensurate with the alleged offence, he added. Defending its action, army authorities said the drivers had to perform night guard duties for the security of vehicles/stores. The individual thus working excess duty hours was compensated by the grant of compensatory day-off. He had refused to perform the night guard duty and had used insubordinate language to his superior officer. The Bench quashed the summary court-martial order pointing out that the Commanding Officer against whom the offence was committed had signed the chargesheet and conducted the trial himself. The Bench observed, “That no man can be a judge of his own cause is a well-settled principle of natural justice. In this case, it is obvious that the principle of natural justice has not been strictly followed”.