In September 2016, a sensitive situation reached the offices of Indian Army’s Eastern Command in Kolkata. One of its officers, Lt Colonel Dharamveer Singh of the Special Forces, alleged that a team of an army intelligence unit in Nagaland had committed fake encounters and dacoity against civilians in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland in 2010 and 2011.
Singh made the allegations in a confidential letter to Lt General Praveen Bakshi, the then General Officer Commanding in Chief of the Eastern Command. He additionally asked Bakshi to conduct a fresh investigation into the matter.
Within a fortnight, Singh was forced to withdraw his letter requesting fresh investigation by his then commanding officer. He was not even allowed to write the withdrawal letter of his choice. Two withdrawal letters written by him were rejected and he was made to write it using words chosen by his then CO.
In his military career spanning 32 years, Singh has served in Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka and was also a part of Operation Vijay during the Kargil war in 1999, among others. But by August 2019, he was facing court martial proceedings for allegedly keeping unaccounted arms and ammunition and sheltering militants in army barracks.
Singh claims that the proceedings are an attempt to shut him up for demanding action against the alleged atrocity by Army officials in insurgency-affected Northeast. In February 2019, Singh moved to Manipur High Court praying for registration of an FIR regarding recovery of illegal arms and ammunitions and for the constitution of a court-monitored SIT to investigate and unearth the larger conspiracy.
Request for fresh investigation lead to Court martial proceedings
The whole chain of events started in September 2016, when Lt Col Singh was serving as Officer Commanding (OC) of the Z section at the 3 Corps Intelligence and Surveillance Unit (known as 3CISU) in Nagaland’s Dimapur. On 9 September, Singh wrote a letter to Lt General Bakshi stating that he had been informed about fake encounters and dacoity carried out by a team of 3CISU that targeted civilians. He requested Bakshi to issue orders of fresh investigation into the matter.
A copy of Lt Colonel Dharamveer Singh’s letter
The letter asked for an investigation into three incidents: a dacoity that was carried out at the house of a local businessman in Jorhat in December 2011; the killing of three Manipuri youths who were allegedly killed in the unit’s mess in March 2010; and in February 2010″two Manipuri civilians and a student” who were apprehended from Shillong and then “killed in cold blood” .
In 2017, the Guwahati High Court had ordered a SIT probe in the fake encounter of three youths who were killed behind the army mess in Dimapur.
“Keeping the facts and evidence available in view, I request for proper CBI investigation,” said Singh’s letter to Bakshi, also emphasing that all three incidents were carried out by a particular team of 3CISU. Interestingly, the team of army personnel accused by Singh were recommended for the gallantry award in years 2010 and 2011.
According to Singh, a day after he wrote the letter, he was forced to withdraw his complaint by then 3CISU Commanding Officer (CO) Colonel Rajesh Singh, who asked him to report immediately to a sub-unit of 3CISU called 2 Field Intelligence Detachment (FID) M Sector in Imphal. Singh was then stationed in Imphal between September 2016 to June 2018.
Singh’s OC (Officer Commanding) charge was then taken by Lt Col R P Nanda who reported at 2FID on June 26, 2018. It was during the 3 day-long transition procedure that an issue regarding a debt amount of Rs 3,59,000 surfaced. According to Singh, the amount was contributed by the army personnel of 2FID from their own pockets in order to carry out the necessary official duties since the detachment was not getting any funds from the Unit since January 2018. The issue of scarcity of funds had been reported to the then CO as well as to higher authorities between February to May 2018.
Citing financial debt of detachment as an issue, Nanda asked Singh to take the directions of CO on the matter and denied taking charge until he received suitable directions. Documents with Newslaundry say that despite making repeated attempts to get directions on the issue, Singh did not receive any official response from the then CO Colonel Ranjan Singh. Instead, Singh was summoned at the Unit headquarters at Dimapur in late June 2018. He also received a Whatsapp message from Col Ranjan Singh in which he was threatened of strict disciplinary action against him if in case he fails to report by given time.
On the morning of June 30, when Singh informed about the orders of CO (to report at Unit HQ at Dimapur by 4 pm on June 30) to Nanda and requested him to take charge, the latter refused once again citing the financial debt issue.
Things took a dramatic turn on July 1, 2018, when Singh was taken into custody from his home by a Quick Response Team (QRT). Singh’s family, who was visiting him at the time, was also present. He was taken to Dimapur where he was allegedly kept in illegal custody in a room for 10 days. His wife and daughters were also allegedly detained at the house for a few hours.
Ranju Singh, Singh’s wife, filed an FIR at Imphal Police station stating that her husband has been illegally arrested. Nanda, Singh’s successor-in-waiting, and one Major BS Rathore wrote a letter to the SHO of the police station to file a counter complaint against Singh’s wife claiming that she had given false information in her FIR.
In an official complaint to CO Ranjan Singh on July 2, Nanda made several allegations against Singh, ranging from recovery of unaccounted arms and ammunition to not following the orders of his seniors.
Nanda also claimed that an active cadre of insurgent group United National Liberation Front (UNLF) identified by the nickname of ‘Japan’ was living in the barracks with army personnel. A civilian, allegedly Singh’s personal caretaker, was also living inside.
Nanda further alleged that after being taken into custody, Singh stopped at Faidinga junction in Imphal and called Nanda to tell him to get his movement order.
“When Lt Col Nanda along with Major BS Rathore reached the spot to hand over the movement order, he refused to take it and started shouting, “Salon tumko chhodunga nahin, public main woh haal aur tamasha karunga ki jo zindagi bhar yaad karoge (You all will not be spared, I will create such a public drama that you will remember it for life),” Nanda wrote. In addition, he alleged that Singh said that “Tumhari sarkar nahi bachegi (Your government will not survive).”
Here’s Nanda’s assessment: “1) Lt Col Dharamveer Singh had designed the courses of action to suit unseen interest. 2) 2020 being his retirement year, likelihood of seeking popularity to gain political mileage. 3) With central elections around in 2019, he may have been motivated discreetly by civilian friend to indulge into a limelight glare. 4) May be the powerful, solid support and backing by opposition party could have instigated him to endorse such activities.”
This complaint initiated disciplinary case against Lt Col Singh, who had then completed 32 years of service in the Indian Army.
On July 5, 2018, Singh’s wife filed a Habeas Corpus in Manipur High Court of Manipur after which the court directed the then Corps commander to produce Lt Col Singh in court on July 11, 2018.
Three months later on October 5, 2018, on the basis of Nanda’s complaint, Singh received an order of attachment directing him to be posted from his then posting at an NCC Battalion in Nanded (Maharashtra) to 56 Artillery Brigade/Infantry division of the 3 Corps at Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh for disciplinary action.
In November 2018, Singh challenged his new posting and filed a petition in Manipur High Court. He claimed that that the disciplinary proceedings against him were initiated without contemplating the charges, and to harass him for writing a letter to senior authority in September 2016. Through its orders in November 2018 and January 2019, the High Court stayed Singh’s transfer, but only until the Supreme Court overruled it after the Union of India challenged in February 2019. The apex court noted that the “High Court should not intervene in departmental proceedings in exercise of writ jurisdiction as it is a service matter.”
It is also important to note that the Supreme Court set aside Manipur High Court’s interim stay order on the disciplinary proceedings on technical grounds, not on the merit of the case.
In the intervening time, Singh also filed a writ petition before the Manipur High court pleading for the registration of the FIR under relevant sections of IPC and arms act in regard to the allegations of the recovery of unaccounted arms and ammunition from the barracks of 2FID.He also requested to form a SIT (Special Investigation Team) to conduct court monitored investigation.
On February 27, 2019 charges were levied against Singh on the basis of Nanda’s compliant to record summary of evidence.
On August 23, 2019 court martial proceedings were started. As of now, Singh has pleaded not guilty in General Court Martial proceedings. His trial will start on September 6, 2019.
Summary of evidence tells a different story
A copy of the SoE
The summary of evidence (SoE) proceedings of the Army tells a different story. It questions the allegations made by Lt Col Nanda in his letter — the sole document for the initiation of disciplinary case against Lt Col Singh.
In his statement during the SoE proceedings, Singh claimed that the allegations made against him are “motivated” and “malicious”.
The allegations, especially about the unaccounted arms and ammunition, were made at the behest of some higher authorities.
Singh said: “For a religious soldier, nothing can be more painful than this. I humbly submit that Army is my first love and a religion for me and I cannot ever dream of maligning the image of my esteemed organisation.”
As per the SoE documents accessed by Newslaundry, the claims made by Lt Col Nanda were refuted by the witnesses during the proceedings.
Nanda himself confessed that all documentary evidence related to the handing and taking over of unaccounted arms and ammunition were destroyed by Major B.S Rathore shortly after Singh was taken into custody. But statements by Army personnel claimed that both Nanda and Rathore had destroyed the records of handing and taking over of unaccounted arms and ammunition, adding that these were present at the detachment since 2015, when Singh didn’t even have joined as the OC.
It also accused Nanda of trying to manipulate the situation by asking a senior non-commissioned officer and charge-holder to not disclose the destruction of the records of handing-taking-over of the unaccounted arms and ammunition.
Witnesses in SoE proceedings claimed that the presence of an active UNLF (United National Liberation Front) cadre at detachment was false. Wareppam Chandrakumar Singh alias Japan was never kept or stayed permanently in 2FID. Statements claimed that Japan was a surrendered militant and was handed to 39 Assam Rifle a day after his surrender to 2FID.
“On 25 Feb 18, the cadre of UNLF SS Japan came to me in Moreh location for surrender. I accommodated the cadre of UNLF SS Japan overnight in Hotel room of Moreh Town and had telephonic conversation with Lt Col Dharamveer Singh for executing his surrender.Next day on February 26, 2018 I handed over the cadre of UNLF named Japan to the personnel of 2FID along with one Beretta Pistol and a magazine. Subsequently, I came to know from personnel posted at Det HQ, the Cadre of UNLF was handed over to 39 AR and got to know further that in the month of April 18, he was issued with a temporary identity card from 39 AR and the formalities for his official surrender had commenced.” said a witness.
The allegation of Singh keeping a civilian as a personal taker was refuted by witnesses who stated that the civilian Laishram Samantda Singh alias Naoba was employed as a mess boy of detachment who would help in cooking and cleaning utensils. He was not Singh’s personal caretaker.
Witnesses also refuted Nanda’s claims that Singh had misbehaved, argued or used foul language after being taken into custody.
The fake encounters
R.K Ganga, wife of R.K Ronel, who was allegedly killed by the army personnel of 3CISU, told Newslaundry that her family has been struggling to get justice since 9 years. “My husband was killed in a fake encounter,” Ganga said, “I am really happy that an army officer like Dharamveer has tried to expose these fake encounters. Hope we will get justice someday.”
Chandrajini, wife of Thounaojam Prem, another victim of the alleged fake encounter, said that her husband was killed a year after their marriage. “I do not know when are we going to get justice,” she said, “If the Army is going to punish the good officers who expose the system of fake encounters then no officer will come forward to expose the rogue elements in the Army. We are living in hope that one day this system will change.”
38 year-old Renu Takhellambum, President of EEVFAM (Extrajudicial Execution Victims Families Association Manipur) told Newslaundry: “In Manipur rules of law are not followed. Around 1528 cases of extrajudicial killings are pending in courts and not a single person has got justice till. However, extra-judicial killings have been stopped after we filed a PIL in Supreme court.”
Renu’s husband was also killed allegedly in a fake encounter on the morning of April 6, 2007. He went to buy a film roll from the market close to their house on a scooter with his two friends. Three of them were chased and shot dead by police allegedly not stopping for a routine checking.
She further said: “Some families have been given compensation but money cannot compensate the lives of innocent people. We have lost thousands of youngsters in Manipur. Army, CRPF and state forces have killed many youngsters, even a 13 year-old boy was killed in a fake encounter. Some of the mothers want to get justice and punish the culprits involved in the killings. No one is above the law. Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Shreeji Bhavsar, a Delhi-based lawyer representing Singh, told Newslaundry that, “In ‘summary-of-evidence’ proceedings, Lt. Col. R.P. Nanda expressly admitted that original official documents regarding recovery of illegal arms & ammunitions were destroyed by an officer under him, which is a serious criminal offence. This fact itself is enough to prove that few officers have conspired and framed Lt. Col. Dharamveer Singh making false and frivolous allegations.”
He added: “Dharamveer has filed petition before the Hon’ble High Court of Manipur praying for registration of an FIR and constitution of court monitored SIT to unearth the larger conspiracy. I believe that the Chief of the Army has not been briefed correctly about the true facts. We have full faith in the institution of Army and the judiciary that they will deal with the conspirators with an iron hand and will bring justice to the honest and upright officer who has an illustrious service record and has selflessly served the country for more than 32 years,” added Bhavsar.
Newslaundry tried to contact the Army and sent a questionnaire on the issue. The story will be updated as and when the reply is received.