Antony seeks report from Army Chief Bikram Singh

An incident of reported friction between jawans and officers in an Army unit in Samba sector in Jammu and Kashmir found its echo in Rajya Sabha on Thursday with the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking to downplay it.

The matter was raised during Zero Hour by CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury who wanted the Defence Minister A. K. Antony to respond. As Mr. Antony was not present in the House, Dr. Singh responded "I request the House not to have a discussion on the subject. This is a very small incident which is being blown out of proportion. It is not good for the morale of our armed forces".

The CPI (M) members referred to the Samba incident, saying there was breach of discipline in the military camp in the border district. A soldier in the camp had committed suicide, leading to face-off between jawans and officers in the unit.

The jawan who shot himself with his service rifle in the camp of the 16 Light Cavalry at Samba was identified as Arun V hailing from Thiruvananthapuram. The soldier, in his early thirties, had died on the spot.

Separately, Mr. Antony has sought a report on the incident from the Army Chief General Bikram Singh who is touring Western Command. The unit at Samba also comes under the jurisdiction of Army’s Western Command.

As part of the normal practice, the Army has ordered a Court of Inquiry (CoI) into the incident in the military camp in Samba. The CoI would be conducted by a Brigadier level officer, sources in the Army said. The sources maintained that there was no scuffle among jawans and the officers and normality had returned to the military camp. They said the commanding officer of the unit Colonel S. M. Prakash continues discharging his duties.

The incident at Samba came three months after another incident involving jawans and officers in Nyoma in Ladakh where a commanding officer, two majors and two jawans had sustained serious injuries in clashes. A court of inquiry into the Nyoma incident is still on and it might take another two months for its completion, Army sources said here.

The sources said the jawan took the extreme step after receiving a phone call on his mobile. Angry over their fellow soldier’s death, tempers of the jawans ran high and they protested against the officers and surrounded their residences.

The incident prompted Lt-General A. K. Bhalla, 9 Corps Commander, to visit the camp and bring the situation under control.

Senior Superintendent of Police, Samba, Israr Khan, who visited the unit after the incident, said the police had registered a case and investigations were in progress.

Senior Army officers said that a number of steps have been taken in the recent past to reduce the stress level of jawans, particularly those posted in sensitive areas. Some of the steps included grant of leave to soldiers thrice a year, counselling sessions, frequent interactions with the officers and regular welfare activities.