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Mon killings: A year later | Army says probe report ready, cites case in court for no action

The Army has stuck to the line that the December 4 ambush, where six civilians were gunned down by the security forces, was a case of “mistaken identity”. A day after the incident, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said the same in Parliament.

The pickup truck, which came under fire from the Army personnel, hasn't been moved from the site of the incident. (Express Photo by Tora Agarwala)

More than six months after the Indian Army said it had completed its Court of Inquiry into the killings in Nagaland’s Oting in December 2021, it is yet to decide on the action forward.

A top Army official told The Sunday Express that they could not “proceed” on the matter because the case was now “sub-judice”. “The Court of Inquiry is complete in all respects but the case is sub-judice now. Unless the (Supreme) Court’s decision is finalised, we cannot proceed independently,” the official said, adding that the entire team involved in the incident, save one who has since retired, continues to be on duty.

The Army has stuck to the line that the December 4 ambush, where six civilians were gunned down by the security forces, was a case of “mistaken identity”. A day after the incident, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said the same in Parliament.

In May, addressing a press conference in Guwahati, the Indian Army’s Eastern Command chief Lt General Rana Pratap Kalita had admitted to an “error of judgment”. He said, “But that does not give us any leeway to put things under the carpet. The report is being examined. Any lapse which we feel has taken place, requisite disciplinary action will be taken irrespective of his rank or who he is.”

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Meanwhile, in March, an SIT set up by the Nagaland government submitted its report and filed a chargesheet indicting all 30 Army personnel including the team commander of Major rank under IPC sections related to murder, attempt to murder, and destruction of evidence, among others.

The report accuses the operation team of giving “wrong positive identification without proper application of mind”. It further accuses the team commander of “conspiring to kill the occupants of the pick-up vehicle in spite of the fact that the ground sources input was different”.

All victims, the SIT concluded, were shot at “with a clear intention to kill”.

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However, the Department of Military Affairs is yet to give the Nagaland Police sanction to prosecute the Army personnel.

Meanwhile, the team leader’s wife approached the Supreme Court in June asking for a stay on the chargesheet citing the non-sanction of prosecution.

In July, the court stayed proceedings on the FIR and the report of the SIT, invoking the immunity the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, offers to the security forces.

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An Army source said that while the entire incident was unfortunate, it was unintentional. “The team was following an SOP, they were not acting on their own whims and fancies,” said the source. “The Army has acknowledged their mistake and has accepted there was loss of life, but there are other nuances to it too. The whole incident has brought down the morale of the forces, so any step has to be taken sensitively.”

The petition by the Major’s wife argues that the ambush was not a “whimsical operation, directed without any intelligence, but a bonafide military operation, duly authorised and directed.” It also argues that members of the team were experienced combatants, “not a team of novices, or fly by night operators, who were trigger-happy….as projected”. It says that the Major has put in “13 years of service as on date, and has been part of numerous successful military combat operations”.

The petition accuses the Nagaland Police of “turning a blind eye to the injuries faced by the Army for reasons best known to them”. It claims the death of the paratrooper Gautam Lal, who was attacked with a dah (machete) on the neck, wasn’t investigated by the SIT, despite a registered FIR at Tizit Police Station in Mon district.

On November 1, the Supreme Court heard the matter again and directed the Nagaland state government to file a counter-affidavit. The next hearing is listed for December 27.

First published on: 04-12-2022 at 04:15 IST
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