Monday, August 29, 2011


It would have been hilarious had it not been so infuriatingly stupid. The story which I am about to recount shows how certain officers in our Army, right through the spectrum of seniority, are not only ignorant of military laws but are also brazen enough to go about showing it for all to see. Not realising, therefore, that the times are changing and the average Jawan is not a class 5 pass out anymore.

As you will make out by seeing the accompanying documents, this story is about Sapper Lenin Chakraborty, serving in a engineering regiment, who was put through a summary trial and sentenced to 14 days RI for taking part in auditions of 'Indian Idol' while he was on leave.

There are some Army instructions on taking part in reality shows on television and it was quite evident that the Sapper would have to be disciplined for not having informed his superiors and taken their permission before embarking in the talent contest.

However, in an act which can be called a 'legal suicide', the unit of the jawan first punished him without specifying the exact law which he had violated, thus giving him an opportunity to go to the Armed Forces Tribunal in appeal. Then, it proceeded to tie itself in more knots by writing a letter to the Jawan warning him about his seeking legal redress without permission for superior officers and then directing him to withdraw the petition within a specified period of time.

That such an order is illegal in the eyes of the law goes without saying.

Perturbed by the punishment meted out to him, and perceiving it to be wrong, Sapper lenin, wrote to the Colonel Commandant of Bengal Sappers, Lt Gen Gautam Bannerjee, for redressal of his grievances. Now, this gave an opportunity for Lt Gen Bannerjee to give a piece of his mind to the young soldier on matters of military discipline and the cardinal mistake that he had done by writing to a senior officer.

Then he compounded the matters by pointing out that Sapper had been punished for his "arrogant behaviour" and that he "indicated signs of being AWL (absent without leave) while on leave". Now that is as good as it could get for the legal remedy available to the erring Sapper. Arrogant behaviour can hardly be a cause for a Summary Court Martial and the law would be hard pressed to find a clause in the Manual of Indian Military Law which permits court martial of a jawan for "indicating signs of being AWL while on leave".

Not surprisingly the Sapper seems to be getting some sympathy from the tribunal and the Army is on the receiving end.

What all this brings to fore is the fact that military officers are quite ignorant of law. And in the changing environment where recruits are graduates if not post-graduates, especially in technical arms and services, such ignorant officers end up harming the service rather then helping in imposition of discipline.

The case of Sapper Lenin Chakravarthy should serve as an example for all those who take such cases lightly. In fact, it should be made into a precis and disseminated to all units so that the Commanding Officers can learn what not to do in a situation like this.


  1. That bit about 'indicating signs of AWL on leave' does sound stupid. sounds like "indicating signs of drunkeness while being sober" ...Perhaps an RTI can be filed to get the definition of "Indicating signs of AWL"..

    that said, the original punishment may have been in retaliation for the fact the sapper claimed his mother was ailing and he requested leave - then went and participated in the audition. Now it would be nice to know if the sapper had clarified as to whether his mother got better while he was on leave when he could go on to the audition? or if it was a pre-planned move all along..

    if he had lied for the reason to go on leave, then 14 days RI may not be out of the order..

    Coming to the Lt's letter, it makes me think. What is the protocol for filing the case with the AFT? Would you do that as a first resort or as last resort? What other laid down channels of greivance did the sapper follow before filing with the AFT? keeping all this in mind, The Lt's letter is not really out of line..

  2. Well Jagan, pre-planned or not the fact that he participated without permission is a fact. And he should have been punished for that.
    Now, where the unit erred was for punishing him without knowing the exact rule which he had violated. That is because officers know very little of military law because of which often disproportionate sentence is awarded in Summary Court Martials. And as far as that poor Lt writing on behalf of the CO is concerned, there is no way they can ask the Sapper to withdraw his petition. No officer/jawan is supposed to take any permission before seeking legal redress. There are no two ways about it. And considering this fact, the letter is absolute trash and will help the erring Sapper get away clean.