New Delhi: The Supreme Court on July 20, Tuesday stayed proceedings against 30 army personnel booked by Nagaland police in connection with the killing of 14 civilians in Mon district in December 2021 in a botched up anti insurgency operation.
The order was passed by the Bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and V Ramasubramanian. They ‘recorded’ that the death of a paratrooper during the incident had not been investigated yet, sources said. The Court was hearing two pleas, one of which was filed by Anjali Gupta, wife of Major Ankush Gupta, who was one of the army officers booked by the Nagaland Police.
The petitioner sought quashing of the concerned first information report (FIR), the findings and recommendations of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Nagaland government, and all other ancillary proceedings arising out of the December incident including the complaint filed by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
On Dec. 4, 2021, a special army unit opened fire at a pickup van carrying Konyak Naga coal miners to their village, reportedly mistaking them for armed insurgents. Six were killed on the spot while seven more civilians and a soldier reportedly died when angry locals clashed with the men from Assam Rifles, leaving many injured.
At least 15 civilians and a soldier were killed in Christian-dominated state in India’s northeast region in what was later called a ‘botched up or bungled military operation’ that led to retaliatory riots by angry locals.
Sources said, the petitioners prayed before the court that the SIT of Nagaland police and State functionaries had allegedly ‘turned a blind eye’ to the safety of the accused and their family members by revealing their personal information.
Further, intelligence received by the accused was not taken cognisance of. Moreover, despite being personnel protected by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Army Act, they are being proceeded against under the Criminal Procedure Code instead.
The petitioner says that army personnel and officials were only “performing their bonafide duties as directed by the Union of India.
On the other hand, the SIT so constituted to conduct a free and impartial investigation into the said incident has acted in a completely arbitrary, unilateral and illegal manner, by picking and choosing the evidence available before it to appease the public outcry and to assuage the concerns of the chose few.”
It was contended that the SIT attributed criminality to the accused ‘in its zest’ to conclude the probe and appease a section of society on the basis of a ‘lopsided investigation’.
The plea accused the SIT and State functionaries of having turned a blind eye to the safety of the accused and their family members by revealing their personal information. Further, intelligence received by the accused was not taken cognisance of.
Despite being personnel protected by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Army Act, they are being proceeded against under the Criminal Procedure Code instead, it was pointed out. The petition was filed through advocate Astha Sharma, according to sources.
In December last year, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said in Parliament that he was “anguished” by the ambush blunder, and promised to investigate the incident with a high-level probe and ensure justice to the bereaved families.