Army lets Major quit to wed Lankan girlfriend

After a prolonged legal battle, the Indian Army has decided to relieve a 35-year-old Major in the Corps of Signals to enable him to marry a Sri Lankan national. However, the officer will have to refund the entire cost of his training at the National Defence Academy (NDA) and Indian Military Academy (IMA), and also furnish his marriage certificate.

The decision to accept Major Vikas Kumar's resignation was taken on November 22, a day after the Karnataka high court criticised the Army for repeatedly contesting the case despite two different benches of the court ruling in favor of granting discharge to the officer.

The amount of money that Kumar, who was commissioned into the Army on January 24, 2000, will have to refund is yet to be determined.

The issue dates back to June 9, 2011, when Kumar sought permission to marry Arnila Ranamali Gunaratne, 29, a Sri Lankan doctoral student in Bangalore. Twenty days later, Kumar sought to resign in order to marry Gunaratne.

But on September 19, 2011, the Director General of Military Intelligence refused permission for the marriage on the ground that Gunaratne had refused to give up her Sri Lankan nationality.

As per Army Order 14/ 2004-MI, any Army personnel wanting to marry a foreigner (except Bhutanese nationals) must obtain government sanction and the spouse must become an Indian citizen. The order, however, allows the personnel to resign if their foreign spouse refuses to given up their original citizenship.

Following the rejection of his request, Kumar filed a petition in the Karnataka high court. On December 7, 2011, a single judge bench of the Karnataka high court set aside the Army's rejection, and directed it to process Kumar's resignation within 60 days.

But on February 24, 2012, the Army rejected Kumar's resignation, citing the following grounds: he was yet to fulfill the terms of his commission; the Corps of Signals has a 32 per cent deficiency in officers of the rank of Lt Col and below; and Kumar was under investigation for not reporting his affair with a foreign national.

After Kumar challenged the order, another single-judge bench of the Karnataka high court ruled on June 18, 2012 that the case involved not just military service conditions but also Gunaratne's individual rights. The court quashed the Army's order and granted Kumar's claim for discharge from the force while giving the Army scope to investigate any wrongdoings.

As the Army failed to comply with this order, Kumar filed a contempt case on August 24, 2012.

Meanwhile, the defence ministry and the chief of army staff filed appeals against the high court order before a division bench of the court. On November 21, the division bench headed by Chief Justice Vikramajit Sen came down hard on the Army for refusing to heed the earlier orders and imposed a fine of Rs 75,000 on the defence forces.

"Events and attitudes in most countries indicate that we are indeed disingenuous and insincere when we proclaim platitudinously (sic) that the world has become a global village; distrust and discrimination against a foreign citizen remains the order of the day,'' the bench observed.

"There is no empirical data that a foreign spouse will invariably constitute a weak link in matters of security,'' the court said. "We accept that the requirements and necessities of discipline and discretion is in the realm of discretion of the Armed Forces even if it may appear to some to be outdated, paranoid or chauvinistic,'' the court observed.

A day after, on November 22, the Army decided to relieve Kumar. The Army's decision was conveyed to the Karnataka high court on Wednesday, in the course of the hearing of the contempt of court petition. The Army has also stated that there are no disciplinary proceedings against Kumar.

The Army told the court that Kumar's resignation would be effective when the entire cost of his pre-commission training is refunded and on "furnishing his certificate of marriage" with Gunaratne.

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