Court-martialled Army Major moves SC against dismissal

New Delhi: An Army Major, who was court-martialled for his alleged links with a woman of US nationality, has appealed to the Supreme Court against his “dismissal from service”. The Supreme Court admitted the petition of Major Saurabh Saharan, also an acclaimed international polo player, on July 8 and the case is awaiting hearing.

Major Saurabh was cashiered (dismissed from service in disgrace) by a general court martial in November 2013 after a military court found him guilty on four of the five counts in the charge sheet. The military court also ordered him three years rigorous imprisonment and divested him of his right to use his rank.

However, in December 2018, the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT), where Major Saurabh had appealed against the court martial, found him not guilty on three counts. First, he was cleared of the charge of amassing property disproportionate to his known sources of income. Second, he was absolved of the charge of filing a false duty claim in July 2009 of travelling from Jaipur to Delhi using his own car. Lastly, the tribunal also cleared him of the accusation that he had improperly received Rs 17.50 lakh from the American Nancy F. Chapman by falsely promising to buy her a car with the money.

The military court, which “cashiered” Saurabh from service, had itself found him not guilty of the most serious charge in the charge sheet. He had been accused of compromising on the security of the country by communicating with Chapman, via Google map.

The principal bench of the Tribunal, comprising Chairperson Justice Virender Singh and administrative member Vice-Admiral P. Murugesan, reduced the sentence from cashiering to only “dismissal from service”. 

“[Saurabh Saharan] was a Major and posted to 61 Cavalry Regiment, a horse-mounted unit of the Indian Army exclusively involved in equestrian sports. He also represented the Indian team in various show jumping and polo events both in India and abroad, which is the conceded position before us. Keeping all these factors in mind and his young age, in our considered view, the ends of justice would be adequately met if the sentence of cashiering of the appellant from service is reduced to dismissal from service,” stated the Tribunal order.

The 61 Cavalry, based in Jaipur, Rajasthan, where Major Saurabh was posted, is the only unit of its kind in the Indian Army. Following the Tribunal order, Saharan, who is a fifth-generation armyman, has begun working overseas in a private firm headquartered in Dubai.

When contacted by IANS, Saurabh’s father, Col S.S. Saharan (Retd.) said: “We have full faith in the judicial system of the country. We are fully confident that justice will be meted out to my son. We are awaiting the verdict of the apex court.”

The Tribunal found Saurabh guilty only on one of the five counts in the charge sheet, that is, of violating the good order and discipline of the military forces under Section 63 of the Army Act, 1950. He was found guilty of remaining in contact with a foreign national – Nancey F. Chapman – in an improper manner from December 2008 till March 2009.

Chapman, a jewellery designer from Texas in the US, used to visit India for work and allegedly met Saurabh at a New Year’s party on December 31, 2008, during one of her sojourns in Jaipur.

In April 2009, Chapman made an oral complaint to the Commanding Officer of 61 Cavalry alleging that Major Saurabh had duped her of several lakh rupees. She filed a written complaint in the matter to the Army Headquarters on May 30, 2009.

A Court of Inquiry was instituted by the GOC 61 Sub Area on May 12, 2009 to investigate Chapman’s charges, and a charge sheet was filed against Saurabh, comprising five counts. 

On 16 August 2011, the GOC-in-C South Western Command quashed the Court of Inquiry and ordered disciplinary proceedings against Saurabh. Saurabh, thereafter, petitioned the Armed Forces Tribunal in 2011 against the disciplinary proceedings. While Saurabh’s petition to the Tribunal was yet to be dismissed, he was handed over a charge sheet by the Army on 9 April 2012. A week later, on 15 April 2012, he was placed under closed-arrest.

The Tribunal, meanwhile, disposed off Saurabh’s petition for relief in August 2012 directing for the completion of proceedings in the general court martial. The Tribunal also granted liberty to Saurabh to raise all grounds taken in his petition following the completion of the court martial proceedings.

Saurabh, thereafter, filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court that granted him bail on 19 March 2013 directing that during the pendency of his appeal to the Armed Forces Tribunal, he be kept out of jail. Saurabh walked out of jail three days later.

“The only count on which he now stands guilty is that of maintaining relations with a foreign national. Being dismissed from service on this count is a punishment that is highly disproportionate. It is routine for horse riders and international polo players of 61 Cavalry to interact with foreigners during equestrian sports and polo matches and also in social gatherings associated with such events. We have also challenged the legal validity of the court martial,” said Major Saurabh’s counsel S.S. Pandey.