National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon has asked for a detailed report on the delay that occurred in deploying the Army in riot-hit Kokrajhar last week that many believe was a result of a bureaucratic indecision.
The home ministry has sent a detailed sequence of events to the Prime Minister's Office, primarily blaming the ministry of defence for the inordinate delay.
According to knowledgeable sources, the first request from the Assam government to the Army for help was sent by the district magistrate of Kokrajhar on July 20, within hours of the killing of four Bodo youths, including one former militant belonging to the Bodoland Liberation Tigers. The district administration had anticipated retaliatory killings after the bodies of the four Bodo youths were found in the middle of Kokrajhar town.
Most of the 53 killings happened between July 21 and 24. The moment the Army was deployed on the morning of July 25, the violence immediately subsided.
The local Army unit, however, informed the state government that it was unable to deploy till a clearance from the MoD and the Army headquarters was obtained.
Under pressure to stem the rising violence, Assam's home department wrote a letter on July 21 to the ministry of defence again requesting for the Army's deployment. Still, there was no decision forthcoming. Two days later, on July 23, the deputy commissioner of Dhubri, Kokrajhar's neighbouring Muslim-dominated district, also requisitioned the Army as the violence started spreading from Kokrajhar.
The following day, on July 24, the state administration sent another reminder to the MoD, and also informed the MHA, that its repeated pleas for deployment of the Army hadn't been either acknowledged or acted upon.
All this despite the fact that the law clearly states that the highest ranking executive magistrate, who is present at the site of violence, can requisition the Army to deal with a riot-like situation and disperse mobs.
Local formations of the Army, notably the 21 Division located at Rangiya and its controlling headquarter, the 4 Corps at Tezpur, were constantly sending intelligence inputs about the deteriorating situation in their areas of operation. Shockingly, despite the presence of 11 Brigade (and three of its battalions within a 100-km radius) being present at Kokrajhar, the Army was reluctant to get involved citing a two-decade old SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) that requires it to take a prior clearance from the MoD before deployment in what it thinks is a communal situation.
There is no clarity, however, on why or who had cleared this SOP.
Now, the MHA has written to the PMO seeking to scrap the SOP.
NSA Menon has reportedly told the two ministries to sit down together and evolve a common code for such situations since "loss of lives" because of bureaucratic procedures is unacceptable.