In a first for the Indian Army, 167 soldiers, including a colonel and three officers, are set to face the strictest punishment for their roles in the infamous Ladakh scuffle last year. R S Chauhan reports.
A colonel and three officers of an artillery unit besides 164 soldiers, 17 junior commissioned officers among them, are set to face the strictest action under the stringent Army Act following the conclusion of a court of inquiry into a fracas that led to a free-for-all in Ladakh in May 2012.
This is the first instance when so many officers and jawans will together face what is called 'disciplinary action,' for gross insubordination and indiscipline and acts unbecoming of soldiers.
Northern Army Commander Lieutenant General K T Parnaik has confirmed the punishment handed out by the Court of Inquiry headed by a brigadier.
Under the Army Act, two more legal steps -- summary of evidence and if necessary, followed by a court martial -- are to be taken before the final punishment is handed out.
Under a court martial, the army is authorised to summarily dismiss soldiers or recommend loss of service and demotion in rank.
This, the army hopes, would send the right signal against mischief makers and those who break the strict discipline within the force -- the bedrock on which armies function.
The incident occurred on May 10 last year, sending alarm bells ringing within the army.
The 226 Field Artillery Unit was on its annual field firing range at Mahe near Nyoma, barely 25 km from the Line of Actual Control with China, in Ladakh.
According to army sources, the incident flared up after a major beat up an orderly -- or sahayak -- for allegedly going into his tent when the officer's wife was changing.
The major accused the soldier of violating his wife’s privacy and assaulted him with the help of other officers.
The sahayak fell unconscious after the beating. Other soldiers thought he had passed away.
An enraged group -- some sources say they numbered 200 jawans -- went on a rampage <EM>gherao</EM>-ing and beating up the major and other officers.
These officers fled and hid in nearby units, sources privy to the incident say.
The commanding officer, Colonel P Kadam, who was staying at another location, rushed to the spot, but was caught in the fight between the two groups. The colonel too was injured.
The army initially described the incident as 'minor and isolated,' but now believes there was a failure of 'command and control.'
There is also the question why spouses were permitted at a field firing range.
That 17 JCOs -- who act as a crucial link between the soldiers and officers -- are being held guilty of various charges shows that the unit was not cohesive enough, veterans have observed.
Some veterans have expressed surprise that the unit has not been disbanded.
The unit has since moved to Ajmer under a new commanding officer who was rushed to take charge within 24 hours of the incident.