|Such a punishment was never meted out in previous cases, say serving officers|
NEW DELHI: Perhaps for the first time in independent India, an Army court has sentenced a jawan to death for killing an officer following an altercation.
A General Court Martial (GCM) sentenced sepoy K.C. Behra to death for killing Lieutenant-Colonel Saket Saxena on the outskirts of Srinagar on October 31 last. The GCM was held near Srinagar and headed by a Colonel-rank officer from a regiment other than that of Lt. Col. Saxena, said reliable Army sources.
Both the soldier and the officer were posted with the Rashtriya Rifles, the Army's specialised counter-insurgency force operating in Jammu and Kashmir. The sentence is subject to confirmation by the Chief of the Army Staff and can be challenged in the civil courts. "In my 32 years of service, I have not come across a case like this," said a former Army spokesperson.
Claiming that the sentence was "harsh," serving officers said such a punishment was never meted out in previous cases of killing of officers by other ranks. They said it indicated a carrot and stick policy by the Army to curb distress deaths. Last year, deaths due to suicides and fratricide (killing of colleagues) in the armed forces touched a record high prompting Defence Minister A.K. Antony to set up a committee of experts from the Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR) to examine the trend and submit a report "within two months."
However, further action was stalled for some time as he sought a presentation from the DIPR team.
Mr. Antony, in the meanwhile, persuaded the Army to take remedial measures, including a liberalised leave policy and training select junior commissioned officers (JCOs) in the northern and eastern command — two theatres of insurgency where the Army is involved — to detect early any indications of angst among jawans. The Minister has also written to Chief Ministers requesting them to pay special attention to the families of jawans posted far away from their homes in an era of splintering of the joint family system that earlier absorbed most of the stress.
On Thursday, Mr. Antony said in the Rajya Sabha that 50 JCOs from the Army Medical Corps had been trained as counsellors in both the commands.
© Copyright 2000 - 2006 The Hindu