Brothers sentenced to jail and fine for not returning for NS duties in time

Vandana Kumar Chidambaram (left), who pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to report for NS for three years, six months and two days, leaves the State Courts with his mother Madam Sunthravalli Chelliah on Oct 18, 2016.
Vandana Kumar Chidambaram (left), who pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to report for NS for three years, six months and two days, leaves the State Courts with his mother Madam Sunthravalli Chelliah on Oct 18, 2016. ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - Two brothers remained out of Singapore without a valid exit permit and failed to report for national service (NS) for more than five years and for more than three years respectively, a court heard.

But they went on to serve their full-time NS exceptionally well - one was selected for Officer Cadet School, while another won a Soldier of the Month Award.

On Tuesday (Oct 18), Sakthikanesh Chidambaram was jailed for three weeks, while his younger brother Vandana Kumar Chidambaram was fined $6,000.

Sakthikanesh, 25, earlier pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to report for NS for five years, six months and 17 days.

Vandana, who turns 23 in two weeks, earlier pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to report for NS for three years, six months and two days.

Both men also admitted to one count each of remaining outside Singapore without a valid exit permit and these charges were taken into consideration in sentencing.

The prosecution, which had asked for short jail terms for both men, intends to appeal for stiffer sentences. Defence lawyers had asked for fines for both.

A district court heard that the brothers' Singaporean mother settled in India after she married an Indian national, who works as a civil servant in the energy sector, in 1990. However, she came back to Singapore to deliver her sons at Kandang Kerbau Hospital in 1991 and 1993, respectively.

She returned to India with her sons when they were about two months old. Sakthikanesh and Vandana Kumar grew up in India and attended the Delhi Public School.

They visited Singapore six to seven times between 2000 and 2009, with each of their visits lasting over a month. Both men renewed their passports twice, and applied for and got their National Registration Identity Cards (NRICs) in 2006 and 2009 respectively.

In June 2008, Sakthikanesh was told to register for NS. But he left Singapore later that month to pursue his university education at the National Institute of Technology, Kurukshetra, in India, only returning in April 2014, after he had completed his studies. He enlisted for full-time NS in September 2014.

In May 2010, Vandana was told to register for NS. But he returned to Singapore only in June 2014 and enlisted for full-time NS in August 2014.

In his judgment grounds, District Judge John Ng found that the brothers had "a substantial connection to Singapore". He noted that both got their NRICs and used Singapore passports for travel, and that their mother co-owned an HDB flat.

Said the judge: "If the circumstances showed that the offender (or his parents) had demonstrated all along an intention to retain his Singapore citizenship, it behoves upon him to discharge his NS obligations to Singapore at a time when other male Singaporeans are asked to report for NS and not be allowed to perform his duties only at a time that is convenient to him or of his own choosing.

"From the facts of this case, it is clear to me that the parents and the boys had no intention of giving up their Singapore citizenship before their NS obligations came to the fore."

The judge, however, took into account the fact that both men surrendered themselves and had pleaded guilty to their charges.

They also performed their NS exceptionally well, he noted.

"Sakthikanesh did so well in Basic Military Training, showing leadership potential that he qualified for Officer Cadet School (OCS). He had almost finished the OCS course to become a commissioned officer, when he was suddenly and devastatingly deprived of that opportunity, due to being charged in court for the present offences.

"As for Vandana, although he did not qualify for command school, based on the testimonial he had received from his superiors, as well as his solid performances, he was chosen to be an Armoured Vehicle Gunner for the SG50 National Day Parade and he was also named as his Company's Soldier of the Month for May this year," said Judge Ng.

"I agreed with the defence that the exceptional nature of their performances in NS is further buttressed by the fact that despite having planted their roots and spent their entire (lives) in India, they have adapted to local culture, built camaraderie and earned the respect of their peers and superiors during NS," the judge added.

For their Enlistment Act offences, Sakthikanesh and Vandana could have been fined up to $10,000 and/or jailed for up to three years.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Kumaresan Gohulabalan and Randeep Singh Koonar prosecuted the case. Straits Law Practice's Mr Tan Jee Ming and Mr S. Balamurugan defended Sakthikanesh and Vandana.