By Yambem Laba
The Supreme Court recently squashed the proceedings of the Army Court of Inquiry against Brigadier LI Singh, which was initiated in 2012. It remains to be seen how the top brass of the Indian Army reacts now.
A decorated Brigadier of the Indian Army (now retired) has waged a lone battle. Not against the Pakistani Army in Ladakh’s Drass where he was awarded the Yudh Seva Medal in 2003 for actions against the enemy during Operation Parakram and Operation Rakshak. Instead, his battle was legal in nature against his own fro the Army who had tried to tarnish his clean image, destroy his reputation and ruin his bright military career. Had it not been for the intervention of the Supreme Court, by now, the officer would have been prosecuted. The apex court set aside an Army Court of Inquiry, which had indicated the Brigadier.
The case against Brigadier Laiphrakpam Ibotombi Singh had been going on from 2012. The inquiry proceedings were initiated in June that year, soon after he had served a show cause notice to the then 3 Corps GOC Lieutenant General Dalbir Singh Suhag in the Jorhat dacoity case. The Apex court bench headed by Justice L Nageswara Rao in December last year allowed the civil appeal for not considering the basic fundamentals issues/grounds relating to gross violation of statutory provisions during the process of COI.
In 2011 – 12, there were conflicts in the top brass of the Indian Army to redraw the line of succession. The wrangling between then Chief of Army Staff General Vijay Kumar Singh and his successors did not end after the former’s retirement on 31 May 2012. The purging of officers who were perceived to be loyal to General VK Singh commenced immediately after General Bikram Singh became the new Army Chief in June 2012 and the first victim of the vendetta was Brigadier Singh, popularly known as “Alai” among his peers. He was then posted as Deputy Director General (discipline and Vigilance Directorate), Army Headquarters, for his impeccable integrity and loyalty. He was also Commander of the Watershed Brigade deployed on Indo – China Border earlier.
Immediately after the change of guard, as a seemingly vindictive action by personnel holding influential positions in the Army, Brigadier Singh was made to face an inquiry, it was alleged that he had moved on posting – a charge without any complaint from anyone and which was seemingly, orchestrated behind his back. Then, completely against military norms, his photograph and name was published in the national print and electronic media on 19 June 2012 even before the initiation of an inquiry. Such publicity was aimed to damage his reputation and move him out of the Vigilance Directorate. The authorities were allegedly not comfortable with him and it was purportedly done to nullify the coordinating follow up actions carried out by him in the Directorate. In response, Brigadier Singh filed an application with the Armed Forces Tribunal in March 2013 for violations of statutory rules, principles of natural justice, mala fide and bias among other things.
In May 2012, Brigadier Singh had coordinated the delivery of show cause notices, imposition of vigilance bans, non – grant of vigilance clearances for promotions against Lieutenant General Dalbir Singh Suhag and two more senior officers of the 3 Corps as per legal provisions and under the directives of then Army Chief, General VK Singh. The official actions of Brigadier Singh hurt the senior offices and they would have perceived that the official actions against the, were due to wrong advice given by Brigadier Singh to the then Army Chief. The truth was that he only acted in his official capacity as per legal provisions and on the orders of his superiors. He had no personal interest in the matter and Brigadier Singh has been maintaining that he has been “falsely implicated” in the case.
Brigadier Singh served as an Infantry Officer of the highest calibre with an impeccable and unblemished service record from 1983. He is a graduate of Defence Services Staff College, Higher Defence Management Course and had the unique distinction of serving two tenures during initial skirmishes with the Pakistanis in Siachen Glacier (Operation Meghdoot) in 1985 – 86 and 1990 – 92. An alumnus of Sainik School in Imphal, he represents a generation of Manipuris who were born and raised in difficult times and yet he took a decision to join the Indian Army. He is the first from the school to occupy the post of a Brigadier.
Later in his career, he commanded the 13 Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry in Drass sector during Operation Parakram, during which, besides causing enormous destruction to enemy personnel – 52 killed and 20 injured – and habitats, his battalion occupied six new posts under extremely hostile conditions including Point 5608, a formidable feature overlooking Shingo Valley in Pakistan. His unit was awarded the Unit Citation and Unit Appreciation on Army Day 2004 and 2005, which is a rare distinction, besides the 64 individual gallantry awards to his troops. He is a source of inspiration to many and motivates the youth in the region to join the Armed Forces.
During the COI, Brigadier Singh was not provided with a copy of the one man inquiry whose “findings” started the case against him. Instead, he had to take it through the court long after the COI had been initiated against him. The Supreme Court bench said there is no dispute that the basis for convening the COI was the one man inquiry report and admittedly, it was not furnished to Brigadier Singh. “… We are of the considered opinion that the direction given by the Tribunal requires modification.
Without the report of the one man inquiry, the Appellant was certainly disabled from effectively defending himself in the COI,” the bench said. Noting that the officer must get an opportunity to question, cross – examine the witnesses and produce witnesses in his favour, the Apex Court said, “We affirm the judgement of the Tribunal with the modification mentioned above. The Court of Inquiry shall be held against the Appellant afresh. As the Appellant has retired from service, the Court of inquiry may be initiated and completed expeditiously.”
There wasn’t a cloud over Brigadier Singh’s military career and in fact, he was one of the pillars of Army and among a very small group of highly successful Commanders in battle. He was one of the youngest in his batch, commissioned at the age of 20, and had the potential to become a senior officer in the Army hierarchy till the COI in 2012.
Now that the previous inquiry proceedings have been quashed by the Supreme Court, the reaction of the new regime in the Army remains to be seen.