The CO refers to an incident of September 1, when a vehicle crashed into the rear of a military truck, resulting into the death of two civilians in the car.
Chatterjee says that the driver of the truck was taken into military custody under the Army Act, but police officials from Banihal insisted on taking the driver in their custody.
“It may be appreciated that in the instant case, the police was dealing with trained soldiers of a disciplined force and not petty criminals who could have escaped the law,” said the CO. The officer further pointed out that the police officers were adequately assured that the driver would be made available for investigation, whenever sought.
In his three-page letter, the CO contended that “dictated by ego”, the Banihal officers lodged an FIR against Chatterjee and his second-in-command Major Deepak Suyal under Section 353 of the RPC for allegedly using force and obstructing public officials from performing their duty.
“This was also a display of ‘anti-Army sentiments’ seemingly being nurtured by the present set of recently posted police officers in Banihal. The malice is gauged by the fact that not only did the police officers lodge an FIR, but also deliberately issued a press brief, maligning the reputation of senior Army officers including one holding the rank of a Colonel,” Chatterjee’s letter read.
The Commanding Officer further urged the state DGP to intervene, so that an “excellent working relationship between the two organizations” could be restored. He also emphasized that such incidents affected the morale and motivation of the security personnel, diverting their attention from the primary task.
The letter also recalled another incident in April this year, when the local police kept an Army sepoy in police custody for over a week and the Army was compelled to move the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.
In this case, Sepoy Amit Kumar Yadav was driving a truck when his vehicle hit a motorcycle, killing a Kashmiri youth Aadil Ahmed Sheikh. The next moment he found himself in a police lock up under charges of causing death due to rash and negligent driving.
After the local police refused to hand over Yadav’s custody, the Army sought bail from a magistrate, assuring that the accused will be made available for investigation as well as prosecution, whenever demanded.
However, the magistrate did not just trash the Army plea, but held that Yadav could abscond and try to influence the witnesses. Dismissing Army’s assurances, the magistrate said that people would lose faith in the law if the jawan was granted bail. Yadav needs to be dealt with sternly, said the local court.
This event prompted the Army to resort to an exceptional remedy – it filed a writ petition in the J&K High Court with an objective to settle the issue regarding the custody of its men, once and for all.
The HC has issued notices to the J&K government (Commissioner Secretary, Home) and the police, seeking their replies on the Army’s petition. The magistrate has also been made a party in the case. The HC has further sought to know what prompted the magistrate to refuse the Army’s request, which is ordinarily granted under the law.