In one of the largest ever actions against an Army unit,as many as 168 personnel of a Ladakh-based artillery unit that saw intense clashes between officers and jawans in May last year face disciplinary action and court-martial proceedings.
After an inquiry process that lasted almost an year,strict action has been recommended against one-third of the personnel of the 226 Field Regiment,including the commanding officer,three other officers and 17 junior commissioned officers (JCOs),who were reportedly involved in the clash in Nyoma while the unit was on field firing training.
The CO,who will also face court-martial proceedings,was injured in the fracas in which several dozen soldiers thrashed officers after one of them beat up a colleague. The clash had raised serious questions on officer-soldier relations,with fingers being pointed to a failure of command and control by the officers commanding the unit.
While court-martial proceedings against all the personnel will now commence,it is still not clear what will be the extent of the punishment for the accused. Sources said the action could range from cashiering from service to dismissal as well rigorous prison terms for the personnel.
A marathon inquiry into the incident was completed by Brigadier Ajay Talwar in December and the findings have now been confirmed by the Leh-based 14 Corps headquarters. As many as 220 witnesses were examined during the inquiry,including officers,other ranks as well as civilians who witnessed the clash.
As reported earlier,the incident took place in May last year when the 226 Field Regiment was camped at the Mahi firing range for practice. While the firing practice was in progress,the regiment barber,identified as Suman Ghosh,allegedly entered one of the Majors tents. On seeing the officers wife in the tent,Ghosh is said to have run out in alarm. However,the wife allegedly created a furore.
Following this,the Major,along with two other officers,allegedly thrashed Ghosh. The situation took an ugly turn by evening when all the soldiers of the regiment (close to 500) returned to the barracks and a strong rumor spread that Ghosh had died after the severe beating.
As the situation started getting out of control,commanding officer Col P Kadam,who was staying at a nearby GREF (General Reserve Engineer Force) camp,rushed to the spot to calm the troops. Even as Kadam was reasoning with troops,he was hit on the head by a stone thrown by one of the soldiers.
Following this,a fight broke out between officers and men. The temporary mess is believed to have been burnt down by soldiers in the process. Officers of the unit fled from the spot,some rushing to their wives who were camping with the regiment. The situation was brought under control only the next day after the Army sent in reinforcements.
The Nyoma clash was followed by a similar incident in Samba in August,again in an artillery unit,but the situation was brought under control before serious physical violence. The twin incidents,preceded by a clash between officers and men in the 45 cavalry unit in Punjab in 2011,forced a deep introspection into the command and control system of the Army,with instructions being passed to officers in units to adopt a more humane approach and understand the changing socio-economic situation in the nation.