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"Defence Forces Meant To Protect Country, Not Conduct Lawlessness" : Supreme Court Deprecates Army Officers Violating Injunction Orders

Shruti Kakkar
5 Aug 2022 2:46 AM GMT
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The Supreme Court on Thursday strongly condemned the conduct of certain officers of the Indian army in Secunderabad for encroaching upon a civilian's property near the Army Quarters and razing down its boundary wall in violation of the injunction orders of a civil court.

The Court was considering an appeal filed by the Union Government through the Defence Estates Officers, Andhra Pradesh Circle and the General Officer in Command, challenging an order passed by City Civil Court in Secunderabad in January 2021 by which a Major General and a Defence Estate Officer was sentenced to 2 months civil imprisonment for violation of the injunction orders.

The Union Government approached the Supreme Court after the Telangana High Court refused to stay the Civil Court's order.

When the matter was taken, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana orally deprecated the conduct of army officials in harsh terms.

"Defence forces are meant to protect the country and not to attack the individuals, conduct such lawlessness using bulldozers etc", CJI told Additional Solicitor General SV Raju.

During the hearing, CJI disapproved the officers' conduct of violating the orders of injunction by damaging the property, removing the fence and gate and erecting a public notice.

The ASG said that the civil court's order has been passed not in the personal capacity of the officers concerned but against the official posts. This means, new officers will be exposed to liability, the ASG submitted.

"It cannot be against an office", the ASG said.

"You tell the name of the officer who was in-charge..we will fix it", CJI said. The CJI however expressed disinclination to entertain the matter on merits.

"How can you go without a title or anything? Because you're in the army?" the CJI said.

"It is not like that...I can change the impression of the Court, kindly hear me", ASG submitted.

The CJI then referred to the orders passed by the Civil Court and the High Court regarding the developments in the case. "We know what is happening. Please see the order of the High Court, it shows what you did"

Pointing out that the plaintiffs are senior citizens, the CJI continued, "Do you think we're children? Can you think that the citizens can challenge the army?"

"It all depends", the ASG said.

"Please don't say such things..don't tell that", the CJI replied. The ASG said that there are people who have the clout to take on the army.

"Talking of these people, to think that they will take up cudgels with you and you go with your whole paraphernalia against them...", Justice Hima Kohli interjected.

"Once the High Court refused to suspend the injunction order, what gave you the right to take any action?You lost the claim on every court", Justice Kohli added.

ASG said that the land in question is not something which can be identified. The land is about 5 acres out of a chunk of 17 acres and odd. That portion has not been demarcated and the adjoining land is army land, the ASG said.

The bench said that the officers ought to have sought necessary clarifications from the court in this regard and that they could not have acted against the disputed property contrary to the injunction orders.

Although the bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli said it was dismissing Centre's appeal, it granted the officers protection from arrest till the disposal of the appeal filed before the High Court.

On March 18, 2021, the bench headed by the then CJI SA Bobde had stayed the sentence on a mentioning made by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.

In the execution order dated January 27, 2021, the City Civil Court had ordered for sending the Defence Estate officer and General officer in Commandment to civil prison for their wilful disobedience and violation of the decree of permanent injunction.The execution order also asked them to make good the damages done by them to the decree property and restore it by erecting fence and gate. The Station house officers of the police station were directed to provide aid to decree holders to prevent the the defence officers from violating the decree.

The officers were sentenced on an application filed by one Anand Bala, who had sought action against officials of the Defence Estate Office for not allowing them access to his six-acre land that is situated close to Army quarters.

In 2017, the court had issued a decree in favor of Anand Bala and others while holding that the land in question is not in any way related to the defense department or cantonment board.

It had issued injunction orders restraining the defense department officials from entering the land belonging to Bala.

However, Bala filed an execution petition before the court after noticing some works being done on his land and sought execution of the court's order and to restrain the defense personnel from causing any hindrance to him from entry to his land.

Case Title: Union of India v. Anand Bala| Special Leave Petition (Civil) Diary No(S). 7707/2021

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