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In your court now

Army’s record is for all to see,justice for Pathribal will be done only when SC prods it

Written by The Indian Express | Published: May 3, 2012 3:25:20 am

Army’s record is for all to see,justice for Pathribal will be done only when SC prods it

The matter of the alleged staged encounters in Pathribal has been festering for over a decade,tainting the army’s record in J&K. Despite the CBI’s strong indictment,the army has been reluctant to press on with the trial. Now,returning to the same vexed position as before,the Supreme Court has given the army eight weeks to choose between an open trial in a civil court and settling it internally. Though the CBI had contended that this was a deliberate act of murder and required no prior sanction to prosecute,the SC stuck by Section 7 of the Armed Forces J&K (Special Powers) Act,which requires governmental permission to act against army officers.

Section 7 of the AFSPA presumes good faith,unless malicious intent can be proven. While it was intended to protect officers in the thick of conflict,its vague wording has often allowed it to cover all kinds of sins — in this case,it is patently inapplicable. The Pathribal killings were not a miscalculation in the heat of war,they were “coldblooded murder,and the accused officials deserve to be meted out exemplary punishment”. These are the conclusions of the nation’s premier investigative agency. At a moment when the ground situation in the Valley has visibly changed,when there has been a debate on the judicious,incremental revoking of AFSPA,the court seems to have lost an opportunity by merely reiterating Section 7 and leaving the matter to the army again.

After all,when the army was last given the option of a court martial in 2006,it had said that the case should be closed and rebuffed the CBI,claiming the need for prior sanction to even file a chargesheet against a serving officer. In the years since,the accused officers have been treated as though their tainted record was no impediment to promotions. The army has rallied around them as an institution,providing legal support,even making the general officer commanding the main appellant in the case. Given the army’s reluctance to act against its own,the court should fix strict timelines and bring this case to a quick and just conclusion. A trial is the least that can be done for the men,women and children who have been grieving and waiting.

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