The Indian Express Utkarsh Anand , Esha Roy : Imphal/newdelhi , Sun Sep 15 2013




A judicial commission appointed by the Supreme Court has held that an encounter in Manipur carried out by an Army Major who was awarded the nation’s highest peacetime gallantry medal in 2009 was staged and that two cousins had been “knowingly” targeted by security forces. The “encounter” in which cousins Gobind and Nobo Meitei were killed, took place in Imphal’s Langol area on April 4, 2009 and involved a joint team of the local police and 39 Assam Rifles (AR) personnel.

Four months later, Major D Sreeram Kumar, who was leading the AR unit, was awarded the Ashoka Chakra for being responsible for a “palpable decrease in insurgency activities” and bringing “succour to the people and ensuring their safety”. The officer is one of only two serving Ashoka Chakra winners of the Army and is now posted at a training institution.

The Ashoka Chakra is the nation’s highest peacetime gallantry medal and is equivalent to the Param Vir Chakra that is awarded in war time. While the Army has not commented on the issue as the matter is sub judice, sources said the action for which the Major was awarded the Ashoka Chakra has not been called into question. While the report has indicted him for the April 2009 encounter, the award was given for eliminating four hardcore terrorists in an encounter in East Imphal on October 23, 2008, they said.

However, the April 2009 incident is one of six mentioned as sample cases of “not genuine encounters” by the judicial panel led by former judge Santosh Hegde. “It would appear that the security forces believed a priori that the suspects involved in the encounters had to be eliminated and the forces acted accordingly,” the panel, which has former election commission chief J M Lyngdoh and retired IPS officer Ajai Kumar Singh as members, said in its report.

The panel was formed in January to examine six of the over 1,500 alleged extra-judicial killings in Manipur after the Extrajudicial Execution Victim Families Association and Human Rights Alert moved the apex court. Going into details of the encounter in which the Meitei cousins were killed, the panel met all personnel and officers linked to the incident, including police officers, doctors and members of the AR unit. It says that based on medical evidence as well as the oral evidence given by witnesses that had several discrepancies, there is enough reason to conclude that it was “not an encounter but an operation by the security forces wherein death of the victims was caused knowingly”.

The security forces say the two cousins were spotted during a combing mission and when they were challenged, they had opened heavy fire on the police and an Assam Rifles convoy escorting them. In retaliation, security forces fired 89 rounds, resulting in the death of the duo. However, the panel report says that despite the claim of heavy firing from the cousins, neither was any security forces personnel hit nor their vehicles damaged. It also cites the medical report which said Gobind had 16 gunshot injuries, all from a close range, and Nobo had five bullet injuries, all entering from the back.

The panel has also recorded the statement of Kumar in which the officer has said that the encounter was genuine and fire was opened only after his team came under fire. “My understanding of the terminology of the hardcore terrorist is that when a person is warned by the security forces and if he reacts by firing, such a person is a hardcore terrorist,” the officer is quoted as saying in the report. The report, prepared in March, has been sent to all stakeholders, including the central government for responses.