Mystery has deepened over the suicide of Lt Col Pankaj Jha — the first incident of officer of his rank having shot himself – on Friday last. He had cut short his nine-day leave period by six days and there are indications that he might not have reached his home in Bhopal at all.
That has lent an intriguing twist to the whole episode of his suicide, which is being attributed to an unexplained baggage of distress that he was carrying at the time of shooting himself. His mother, Lalita Jha, has alleged that her son was "under tremendous pressure because of the constant harassment by his superior officer".
The Northern Command has "ordered a probe" into circumstances leading to Lt Col Jha's suicide. Police is conducting its own "independent" probe into the matter, and the charges leveled by the officer's family.
The officer had shot himself at his official residence in Mahore, a hilly and high- militancy infested area, about 180 kms north of Jammu on December 1 afternoon, which according to the northern command is the day when he returned to his place of duty, cutting short his leave.
"Lt Col Jha had taken casual leave from November 29 to December 7, 2006, however he on his own had returned on December 1, 2006", said Lt Col SK Gautam ,Public Relations Officer of the Northern Command in a faxed reply to an e-mailed questionnaire of Hindustan Times.
HT had posted a questionnaire to the Northern Command after the mother of the officer leveled allegations against the superior officers of his son for forcing him to commit suicide.
But shortening of leave has only deepened the mystery. If the officer had taken leave from November 29, he could not have reached his home in Bhopal before November 30. And if he did so, he could not have returned to his place of duty by December 1 afternoon, even if he started his return journey on November 30 itself.
It is at least six hours road journey from Mahore to Jammu, the nearest point from where he could have boarded the train or aircraft for Bhopal.
There is no direct flight between Jammu and Bhopal. The only mode of transport could be either train or by road.
There are two trains — Malwa that runs up to Indore, and Jhelum Express that goes upto Pune and touches Bhopal en route.
By road he could not have covered the distance between Mahore and Bhopal in such a short span of time.
"It appears that he did not go to his home in Bhopal," says Senior Superintendent of Police Reasi JL Sharma. "Where did he go during his initial part of the leave is a matter under investigation."
At the moment, the Army investigations are in progress to "find out details".
"Independent investigation by the police is also being carried out. The findings of the investigation by the Army and police will reveal the causes of suicide," the Northern Command PRO said.
On the impact of the officer committing suicide and its morale on troops, the Northern Command replied: "Lt Col Jha was not commanding troops; he was on an appointment of logistic staff officer. A number of suicide cases in this large Army are an exception and not a rule. Each case has to be seen individually. These do not effect the morale of the troops, except for a sense of grief to his colleagues that is natural in such circumstances."
The Army is also taking corrective measures. "The Army is going into the causes of every case and necessary preventive measures are being taken. The extent of preventive measures includes professional counseling and focus on man management," the Northern Command said.