The Supreme Court had held that the practice of sympathetic consideration on the basis of past conduct cannot be applied to disciplined forces as done in regular service matters. Upholding the dismissal of Subedar Dalbir Singh of 3 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) Battalion (Bn) for cowardice, imposed by the SGCM (Summary General Court Martial), the Hon’ble Supreme Court had taken a view that in the matter of protecting the border, a soldier should rise to the occasion every time and cannot live merely on the past glory.
The charge against the Appellant was of cowardice. During a search and cordon operation carried out in Darigidiyan village of Jammu and Kashmir on August 13, 2006, Appellant failed to retaliate against the militants in spite of possessing an AK-47 and a pistol. As a result, the militants broke the cordon, killing his colleague Sapper Gurmail Singh and taking away the Light Machine Gun (LMG).
The Appellant was sentenced to undergo six months of rigorous imprisonment and was dismissed from service after action initiated by the SGCM under Section 34(c) of the Army Act. The Armed Forces Tribunal upheld the decision, which was challenged by the Appellant before the Apex Court.
Rejecting the contentions of the Counsel for the Appellant who relied on evidence of witnesses about Appellant’s good conduct in past, Justice A. S. Bopanna observed that the resources of the country are spent on the training of a soldier to retaliate when the integrity of the nation is threatened by aggression and if in such a grave situation, a soldier turns his back to the challenge, it is clearly cowardice. The Court also noted that the contention of unconsciousness of the Appellant cannot be accepted as all the incidents which occurred during the time of the attack was explained by him, which would not have been possible, if he was actually unconscious.
However, while upholding the order of dismissal from service, the Court set aside the order of imprisonment considering the peculiar fact that the Appellant had suffered a gunshot injury in the incident and that long time had passed since the incident.