The Army has been hit by yet another incident of face-off between jawans and officers in a unit in Jammu and Kashmir, prompting an upset Defence Minister A K Antony to seek a detailed report from the force even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh downplayed the matter.
Jawans and officers of 16 Cavalry armoured unit were allegedly involved in a verbal confrontation after a soldier committed suicide yesterday in Samba district in Jammu and Kashmir, sources said.
The incident occurred after a jawan of 16th cavalry regiment, Arun V, hailing from Thiruvananthapuram, committed suicide with his service weapon. A Court of Inquiry has been ordered into the death.
The jawan had reportedly sought leave to go home as he wanted to attend to some issues there but it was denied to him. After his death, fellow soldiers protested against the officers and surrounded their residences, the sources said.
Upset over the incident, the Defence Minister has sought a detailed report from Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh who is touring Western Command, under which the incident has taken place, the sources said.
The matter was raised in Parliament where the prime minister downplayed it saying it was a "small incident" and was being blown out of proportion.
"I request the House not to have a discussion on the subject...This is a very small incident. This is a small incident, which is being blown out of proportion. It is not good for the morale of our armed forces," he said.
Sources said there was tension in the unit and additional troops have been rushed to the area to prevent any further escalation.
After the incident, Lt General A K Bhalla, Commander of 9 Corps based in Yol in Himachal Pradesh, went to the area to bring the situation under control and all officers of the 16th Cavalry were moved out of units and residences, the sources said.
Asked if the Commanding Officer was being relieved of his responsibilities, Army sources said Colonel S M Prakash was still in-charge. Prakash has been commanding the armoured regiment since December last year.
The prime minister downplayed the incident in the Rajya Sabha when members said there was a breach of discipline in the army unit which was a "serious" matter.
The members wanted a response from the Defence Minister but since he was not present, the Prime Minister had to intervene.
This is the third incident of confrontation between jawans and officers of the Army in the last 14 months.
In the last such incident in May, a commanding officer, two majors and two jawans were grievously injured in clashes after alleged ill-treatment of soldiers in Nyoma in Ladakh.
The Court of Inquiry into the Nyoma incident, which was a "much more" serious breach of discipline and failure of command and control, has not yet been completed and is expected to take more than two months, sources said.
In an earlier incident involving the 45 Cavalry Regiment where officers and jawans had clashed in Punjab last year during a training session. 23 officers and jawans are facing a CoI.
The Army has taken administrative action against two officers and three Junior Commissioned Officers and 18 personnel including three more officers are still being tried.