The Centre today denied sanction to prosecute 30 army personnel involved in a botched counter-insurgency operation in Nagaland in December 2021, killing 14 young men, as per the state police.
A Nagaland Special Investigation Team (SIT) that investigated the firing in Nagaland's Mon district had named the army men named in its charge sheet.
"The competent authority (Department of Military Affairs, Ministry of Defence, Government of India) has conveyed its denial to accord sanction for prosecution against all 30 accused," a statement by the Nagaland police said as per an NDTV report.
The Union Defence Ministry's denial of sanction has been conveyed to a court, the police said on Thursday.
On December 4, 2021, the Army’s 21 Para Special Force first opened fire at a pick-up van carrying coal miners from Tiru to Oting village in Mon district, killing six on board. They had apparently mistaken the civilian workers for insurgents. This caused a crowd of protestors set the Army vehicles ablaze. The soldiers opened fire again and killed another killing seven civilians.
The effects of the violence continued to the afternoon of December 5 when locals entered a camp of the Assam Rifles in the district headquarters of Mon. Security forces fired back at the protestors, killing at least one more person.
The police said that “indiscriminate and disproportionate firing” led to the immediate death of six civilians and caused grievous injuries to two more.
A special investigation team (SIT), headed by the Nagaland police chief, probed the incident and on March 24, 2022, sought the Union Defence Ministry's sanction to prosecute the army men.
The SIT submitted the names of 30 personnel of 21 Para Special Forces in its charge sheet in court on May 30, 2022. The charges against them included murder, attempt to murder and destruction of evidence. The SIT also said the miners were "shot with a clear intention to kill".
The Centre's legal sanction from the Ministry of Defence is necessary to initiate any action against security forces for their actions while discharging duties under various laws, including the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives the forces sweeping powers in military regions.
To investigate the incident, the Army also set up an independent Court of Inquiry, assuring action against anyone found guilty. However, it later said it could not take any action as the matter was sub judice before the Supreme Court.
On July 19, the Supreme Court paused all proceedings in the case after the wives of the accused security forces personnel requested the apex court to cancel the Nagaland police FIR (First Information Report) and the report of the SIT.