Affair not national affair

The Supreme Court today ordered the government to reinstate a navy commander who had been sacked for his "unbecoming" relationship with a fellow officer's wife and for keeping in touch with a foreign woman.

By Our Legal Correspondent
  • Published 11.03.15
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New Delhi, March 10: The Supreme Court today ordered the government to reinstate a navy commander who had been sacked for his "unbecoming" relationship with a fellow officer's wife and for keeping in touch with a foreign woman.

The authorities had alleged that such regular contact with a foreigner had the potential to compromise national security.

Chief Justice H.L. Dattu and Justices S.J. Mukhopadhyaya and Arun Misra brushed aside both arguments. The bench said mere exchange of explicit photographs or emails couldn't be a ground for dismissal, as the alleged "adulterous relationship" appeared to be consensual.

Nor could contact with a woman with a "white skin" be a ground. "I can understand if your charge says he was passing sensitive material to the lady," the court said. "But that is not the allegation. Then how can it be detrimental to national interests?"

N. Kalyan Kumar was discharged from the navy on May 7, 2013, after a board of inquiry (BOI) held him guilty of exchanging explicit messages and photographs, including his nude photographs, with the wife of another naval officer.

He was also accused of maintaining regular contact with the other woman, a foreigner married to an Indian.

Kumar had challenged his dismissal before the Armed Forces Tribunal, which ordered his reinstatement on June 25 last year. The Centre then moved the apex court, challenging the tribunal's order.

Attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi, who appeared for the Union government, told the court the officer's conduct was unacceptable. "It was an adulterous relationship with a fellow officer's wife. It amounted to stealing the affection of a brother officer's wife," he said.

Senior counsel Vibha Makhija and counsel Prabha Swami, who appeared for the officer, said there was no extramarital relationship between the two, a point that had been recorded by the tribunal.

Rohatgi contended that Kumar, a senior officer, had been found guilty by the board of inquiry for exchanging explicit messages with a fellow officer's wife.

"Is that such a serious charge for dismissing from service?" Justice Dattu, who was heading the bench, asked the law officer.

"His conduct," Rohatgi replied, "was unbecoming of a senior officer and it was a serious lapse."

The email exchanges, he added, amounted to an offence under the information technology act.

"Was there any complaint from anybody, including the husband of the lady?" the bench asked.

Rohatgi said no complaint had come from the husband. "We came to know through the intelligence (about the exchange of obscene information). The armed forces have high standards of morality to be maintained."

The Chief Justice said the exchange of "explicit photos (and) email messages" was between two individuals. "If the lady has complained we can understand. Nor has anybody complained...."

When Rohatgi contended that Kumar had not informed the authorities about his exchange of communication and meetings with the foreign lady at various places, including the officer's home, the bench said: "Merely because he did not report, will it be a case for dismissing him? Inviting her for breakfast along with her husband, who is an Indian national, will it be a misconduct?"

"We can't wait till he passes on the vital information to that woman," Rohatgi countered.

"Then you should at least put it on the chargesheet," the bench said. "Can you say, though you are married to an Indian, yet, your Indian husband cannot bring you for breakfast, because you are a foreign national? She continues to be part of the Indian system. Maybe she has a white skin...."

But merely because she ate "dosas" in his house, "can you dismiss him from service?" the bench asked. "Merely being a high-ranking officer and meeting a foreign national cannot be a taboo. In a society where we respect freedom, can we say he should not meet a lady with white skin?"

The court said the tribunal "seems to be justified" in passing the reinstatement order and dismissed the petition.