Kohima, April 14: The Indian Ministry of Defence has denied sanction to prosecute 30 Army personnel who were allegedly involved in the December 2021 firing incident in Oting village of Nagaland, in which six civilians were killed.
The Nagaland government formed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate the incident, which sparked outrage in Nagaland and the Northeast, and indicted all 30 personnel of the 21 Para SF team, including the team leader, and a Major rank officer, under IPC sections related to murder, attempt to murder, and destruction of evidence.
The SIT had concluded that all the victims were shot at “with a clear intention to kill” and that the team commander had conspired to kill the occupants of the pickup vehicle despite knowing that the ground sources’ input was different.
However, without the sanction to prosecute from the Department of Military Affairs under the Ministry of Defence, which is required to initiate any proceedings against security forces personnel under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the legal process could not proceed further.
The denial of prosecution sanction has been communicated to the district and sessions court in Mon by the SIT and the State Crime Cell Police Station. The Army has maintained that the ambush was a case of “mistaken identity,” and that it had initiated an independent Court of Inquiry to investigate the incident, assuring that it would take disciplinary action against anyone found guilty, “irrespective of rank.”
In May 2022, the Army completed its independent Court of Inquiry, but it is yet to decide on the action forward. Top Army sources had previously said that they could not “proceed” on the matter as the case was “sub-judice.”
In July 2022, the Supreme Court stayed proceedings on the FIR and the report of the SIT, invoking the immunity the AFSPA offers to the security forces. This was in response to the petition filed by the wife of the Army officer who had led the operation. The petitioner had asked for a stay on the chargesheet, citing the non-sanction of prosecution by the Department of Military Affairs.
Meanwhile, the president of the Oting Students’ Union, Keapwang Konyak, and a friend of some killed in the incident said he failed to understand why the government denied the prosecution sanction.
“Is murder not a crime? Are the people of Oting — and Nagas in general — not human? The SIT report clearly said the Army was guilty. Doesn’t the government of India value the life of our people?” he asked.
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has been in force in Nagaland since 1958, allowing military personnel to arrest and search without a warrant and to use force against people suspected of being insurgents or involved in insurgency-related activities.
The Act has been criticised for human rights violations and has been a contentious issue in the Northeast, with many organisations and political parties demanding its repeal. The Act has been removed from several states in the Northeast, including Tripura, Meghalaya, and Arunachal Pradesh, but remains in force in Nagaland, Manipur, and Assam.
The denial of prosecution sanction is likely to further fuel the resentment against the Act and the Army’s actions in Nagaland. The incident has also highlighted the need for a review of the AFSPA and the accountability of security personnel.
The government needs to ensure that security personnel is held accountable for their actions and that justice is served to the victims’ families. The government must take steps to ensure that such incidents do not occur again in the future, and that the people of Nagaland and the Northeast are treated with dignity and respect.