Sukna scam: Court martialled general's kin to fight for justice

"As his family, we stand firmly behind him. He has served the nation. We have nothing to feel bad about. We will definitely not rest the till justice is done," Rath's brother Pratap Kumar Rath said late Saturday.

On Saturday, the General Court Martial (GCM) against Rath, the first serving lieutenant general (Lt. Gen.) to be found guilty, recommended taking "off the rank and the precedence of appointment" with substantive effect from May 24, 2010. In effect, his promotion in 2008 may now be considered effective from 2010.

In his verdict, the GCM, headed by presiding officer Lt. Gen. I.J. Singh, recommended forfeiture of 15 years service of Rath for pensionary benefits, besides severely reprimanding him.  The GCM will hand over their verdict against Rath to the ministry of defence for its final confirmation.

"Let us first see the verdict in detail and we will decide on it," Rath's counsel Major S.S. Pandey said when asked if he would challenge it in the Armed Forces Tribunal, the apex appellate authority of the armed forces.

However, prosecution counsel Raghavendra Jha said the punishment given by the court was "too lenient".  "He should have been given exemplary punishment considering that the court found him guilty on three charges. He could have been dismissed after he was found guilty of moral turpitude," Jha told IANS Sunday.

"As per the Army Act, Rath's punishment should have been severe considering his service condition and his status as Corps Commander," he said  Anyway, he said, "since the verdict is yet to be confirmed, there is a possibility that the court may be asked to review its decision. If they (Rath) approach the AFT (Armed Forces Tribunal), the AFT may enhance its punishment if the evidences are on the record."

The AFT Oct 20 last year had rejected Rath's plea seeking the quashing of charges levelled against him in the Sukna land scam. The eight-month-long court martial convened at the 58 Gorkha Training Centre here found Rath to be guilty on three counts but dropped four other charges against him.

Rath was found guilty of facilitating a deal with realtor Dilip Agarwal's Geetanjali Educational Trust to build an educational institute on a 70-acre plot adjacent to the Sukna military station in West Bengal. Rath was also found guilty of issuing a no-objection certificate (NOC) and illegally signing a memorandum of understanding with the educational trust by not informing the general officer in command of the Eastern Command.

Rath Saturday pleaded to the GCM to reduce the quantum of punishment, saying the proposed educational institute was aimed to benefit the army. "I wanted to benefit the posterity and the larger interests of the organization (army). Me and my family have suffered for the last one and half years, facing humiliation and harassment for a matter that was of no personal gain to me," Rath said.

He, however, expressed his gratitude to the GCM for dropping the defraud charges.  "This has removed the stigma which has been haunting me ever since the charge sheet was filed," Rath said in his plea before the GCM which announced the landmark verdict against a serving high-ranking army official.

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