Four soldiers are likely to be tried by a military court for killing two teenagers and injuring their two friends in a case of mistaken identity in Kashmir’s Budgam last November that triggered a wave of protests and saw the army issue a rare apology.
An army probe found charges of use of excessive force against the soldiers, including a junior commissioned officer, to be true but a court martial would be initiated only after the Jammu and Kashmir government shares its inquiry report with the army, sources said. If found guilty, the four men face a maximum of life imprisonment.
“Civilian casualties will not be tolerated. Procedures have been tightened to ensure such incidents never happen again,” northern army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda said.
The army often finds itself at the receiving end of public anger, with its men being accused of using excessive force. In recent years, it has tried to correct the perception by acting against soldiers. The Budgam probe is said to be one of the quickest to be conducted in the Valley.
On November 3, 2014, a patrol belonging to 53 Rashtriya Rifles opened fire on a white Maruti car after it allegedly evaded two check points, fuelling suspicions that there were terrorists inside.
However, it later turned out that the occupants were five teenagers returning from a Muharram procession. The probe investigated 14 soldiers but only four were found guilty of violating standard operating procedures, sources said.
Five days after the shooting, the army had -- in a rare move -- admitted that the killing of Faisal Yusuf Bhat and Mehrajuddin Dar was a mistake.
The incident had unleashed a wave of protests in the state where an anti-army sentiment prevails due to the controversial armed forces special powers act that gives the forces a free hand in search and arrests.
The army paid a compensation of Rs 10 lakh each the families of the deceased and Rs 5 lakh each to the injured Shaker Bhat and Zahid Naqash.
The brother of one of the two boys killed is now employed with a goodwill school run by the army, while Bhat and Naqash were offered jobs by the Border Roads Organisation.
The news of the possible court martial comes two months after confirmation of life sentence awarded to six soldiers, including a colonel and a captain, for staging the killing of three Kashmiri civilians in 2010 and passing them off as Pakistani terrorists trying to sneak into India. The civilians were lured to Machil on the pretext of jobs, but were later shot dead by troops on April 29, 2010. The Machil killings triggered widespread protests and also led to bloodshed in the Valley.