The Supreme court of India conceded to examine a critically sensitive issue i.e. if a Navy officer can be dismissed from service for having consensual sexual relations with his daughter? A girl in a Navy school at Goa divulged to a counselor in August 2010 that she was being sexually abused by her father from the age of five and that in 2009 she had become pregnant, which had to be terminated by a doctor. She also told the counselor that she was concerned about her younger sister.
A Board of Inquiry investigated the matter and collected evidence after the counselor approached the higher authorities. The Navy in May 2012 set up a General Court Martial and the man was charged with section 376 (rape), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 354 (outraging modesty of a woman) read with Section 72(2) of Navy Act.
During the trial, the retracted from her previous statements and told GCM that she shared a consensual sexual relationship with her father. This demolished the entire prosecution story and the IPC charges against the navy man, a Petty Officer (Steward), who was then posted to INS Kadamba and attached to INS Gomantak in Goa.
Nevertheless, the GCM in June 2012 found him guilty under Section 53(b) of the Navy Act which provided that "any indecent act shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years". The GCM termed the man's actions "indecent" and awarded one-year imprisonment.
However, the GCM also decided to invoke Section 82(4) of the Navy Act against the man for intimidating the daughter to change her statement during trial. It imposed a sentence of "dismissal with disgrace", which denied him pensionary benefits. The man appealed against the sentence before the Armed Forces Tribunal's regional bench in Mumbai.
The tribunal in December partly allowed the appeal of the navy man.It upheld the conviction and sentence under Section 53(b) and one-year sentence. However, it set aside the order for his dismissal with disgrace as a result entitling the man with all retirement benefits. The defence ministry challenged the AFT's ruling before SC.
Appearing on the behalf of the Navy, additional solicitor general Maninder Singh told a bench of Justices J S Khehar and Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel that Navy is a disciplined force and such indecent and indiscipline act of the petty officer would cause grave disturbance to the morale and overall upkeep of the discipline.
He said: "In a disciplined force like the Navy, an indecent act if committed by a sailor, needs to be taken to its logical conclusion by the award of punishment corresponding with the gravity of the offence and any mercy or sympathy on the quantum of punishment would be counter productive."
The bench agreed to consider de novo the matter against the navy man and issued notice to him. On Singh's plea, the Supreme Court also stayed the AFT direction to pay pensionary benefits to the man, who has now retired from service.
The ASG said: "The AFT accepts that the act of the respondent is beastly and highly condemnable and on the other hand takes a lenient view of the offence by setting aside the punishment of dismissal with disgrace on the sole ground that the said incident happened only once, within the confines of four walls and that too with the consent of the daughter."
Singh added: "The mere fact that the act took place only once behind closed doors, cannot absolve the respondent of the culpability."