The Punjab and Haryana high court has set aside the General Court Martial (GCM) of a soldier who was part of the mutiny near Jalpaiguri (West Bengal) in wake of Operation Bluestar in June 1984. The detailed judgment was made available only recently.
Jammu resident Naik Kulwant Singh faced the GCM as he, along with other Sikh soldiers of 166 Mountain Regiment, on the night of June 10/11, 1984, in a mutinous spirit, left the unit lines in commandeered vehicles in open defiance of their seniors. Another charge was of desertion and aiding desertion before being arrested on June 11, 1984.
He was awarded two-month rigorous imprisonment after a trial on December 14, 1985.
He was discharged on March 1, 1987, from the Army after serving for over 15 years. He was denied pension as he was punished for desertion and aiding desertion too and so his service was forfeited.
Kulwant Singh filed the case at the Chandigarh bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal in 2010, after 25 years of GCM, for pension, but lost.
He filed an appeal before the high court admitting that about “170 other ranks from the unit” had left the unit lines on account of emotional stress to join their families “to see for themselves the fate of their families due to Operation Bluestar”. He said that however, they had voluntarily surrendered after a few hours of absence from the unit lines at New Jalpaiguri railway station.
While ruling in favour of Kulwant Singh, the bench headed by Justice SS Saron declared the GCM as null and void for reason of infraction of Rule 180 of the Army rules.
Under this rule, a person is given opportunity of being present and participate in the inquiry and can give statement or evidence or cross-examine witnesses.
“Insofar as the delay in approaching the court is concerned, it may be noticed that right of pension is a continuing obligation and the fact that the petitioner has come to the court after a long period, would not disentitle him for the pensionary benefits,” reads the high court judgment. “The judgment will benefit a number of soldiers as in most cases the army rules were not followed,” said Arun Singla, counsel for Kulwant Singh.
Issue of desertion
After Operation Bluestar, the mutiny took place at a number of places in the Army. Hundreds of trials took place and Sikh soldiers were punished. A letter dated June 18, 1990, from the Punjab government to the director, Sainik Welfare, Punjab, read that the central government had converted the dismissal of all Army deserters affected in the aftermath of Operation Bluestar as discharged and they were to be treated as ex-servicemen.
Pension only for killed and missing
Some soldiers who mutinied after Operation Bluestar have been fighting in the court for pension even now. Though a letter dated November 11, 1986, from the ministry of defence to the Chief of Army staff informed that ordinary family pension to the families of 49 personnel who were killed while resisting arrest was granted, and also to the families of 24 missing personnel after a period of seven years, if they were still found missing.