Judgment in the Case of Theft of Pistols: Lt. Col. Arvinder Singh v. Sandeep Kumar and Neeraj Kumar

The Supreme Court of India recently delivered a significant judgment in the case of theft of pistols involving Lt. Col. Arvinder Singh, Sandeep Kumar, and Neeraj Kumar. The Court’s ruling emphasized the importance of confessional statements and witness testimonies as primary evidence in military proceedings. The decision has far-reaching implications for cases involving Army Rule 58 and the admissibility of evidence under the Evidence Act.


  • The Court of Inquiry report dated May 18, 2006 submitted
  • Both accused confessed to theft of two pistols on June 18, 2006 before Lt. Col. Arvinder Singh
  • Two pistols were found on May 22, 2006 in the exercise area at Mittasar to Bikamsar
  • Different versions exist on how and where the recovery was made
  • Loss of two pistols had minimum impact on tank’s operational efficiency
  • Rifles were found in a shoebox in the Dhobi (Washerman) area as per one version
  • Another version states pistols were found during a ground search at a general area
  • Charge of theft filed under Army Act, 1950 and Indian Penal Code on September 26, 2007
  • Primary witness is Lt. Col. J.G. Gopalan, Squadron Commander
  • Pankaj Dhaka disclosed the theft committed by Neeraj Kumar
  • Regiment undertook training for T-90 Tanks conversion at Pokhran Firing Range from March 15, 2006 to April 4, 2006
  • The Tribunal ordered reinstatement of the accused but without back wages.
  • No recoveries were made based on their confessional statements as the pistols were already recovered.
  • The two slips relied upon by the prosecution were not proven through evidence, thus no secondary evidence could be allowed.
  • The prosecution case was not put to accused Sandeep Kumar as required by Army Rule 58.
  • No physical inspection was done till the loss of pistols was found on May 12, 2006.
  • The written confessions given by the accused in the presence of the entire Squadron were deemed unreliable.
  • It was not clear if the accused were in custody when they gave their confessions.

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  • Mr. Malik argued that the incriminating circumstances were not presented to the accused under Rule 58 of the Army Rules.
  • The Tribunal set aside the conviction based on this argument.
  • It is noted that the written confessional statement was presented to accused Neeraj Kumar during the proceedings.

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  • The Tribunal erred in interfering with the finding of the Court Martial based on the misreading of an Army Order.
  • Confessional statements made by accused before the Military Officer are admissible and not hit by the Evidence Act.
  • The witness testimonies were consistent and not doubted by the Tribunal.
  • Accused attempted to cast doubt on the prosecution’s story regarding the original handwritten slips.
  • The Tribunal exceeded its jurisdiction in setting aside the conviction passed by the DCM.
  • The Tribunal’s findings were based on errors in understanding the evidence and legal principles.
  • Confessional statements by the accused were made voluntarily and were supported by witnesses.
  • The accused attempted to create doubt without confronting the prosecution witnesses on crucial aspects.
  • Statements made under Army Rule 58 do not amount to evidence against the prosecution’s witnesses.
  • The Tribunal lacked the authority to reverse the DCM’s findings solely based on a different possible view.
  • The confessional statements and witness testimonies formed the primary evidence for the prosecution.
  • The Court noted that it typically does not re-appreciate evidence or interfere with Tribunal findings unless there is a substantial question of public importance or a serious error in the appreciation of evidence.
  • However, if the evidence appreciation is flawed, the Court has the authority to re-examine the evidence and intervene in Tribunal findings.
  • The Tribunal’s power is extensive but not merely a different opinion on evidence; interference with Court Martial findings requires legal unsustainability.
  • The grounds for interference are whether the Court Martial’s finding is legally not sustainable.
  • Section 15 of the Act allows appeals against Court Martial convictions if findings are legally unsound due to wrong legal decisions or trial irregularities resulting in miscarriage of justice.
  • Accused need to be informed of incriminating circumstances, but detailed explanations provided by the accused can mitigate the absence of specific incriminating circumstances being articulated to them.
  • The case law refers to the importance of giving the accused an opportunity to respond to prosecution allegations for a fair trial.

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Case Number: Crl.A. No.-001388-001389 / 2019

Click here to read/download original judgement

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