Disciplinary proceedings stayed in Budgam ‘friendly fire’ case
Action on Court of Inquiry report kept in abeyance till Sept. 30by Soibam Rocky Singh
The Armed Forces Tribunal on Monday stayed all disciplinary proceedings against two Indian Air Force officers facing court martial for their alleged role in the ‘friendly fire’ incident of an IAF Mi-17 helicopter after the Balakot strikes last year.
The Tribunal’s Principal Bench at Delhi headed by Justice Rajendra Menon directed that till the next date of hearing on September 30, “further action on the report of the Court of Inquiry” shall be kept in abeyance.
“...We find that various statutory provisions of the Air Force Rules and the regulations are prima facie demonstrated to have been violated in the matter of conducting the Court of Inquiry (CoI) particularly non-compliance with the statutory requirement of Rule 156 (2) of the Air Force Rules,” the Tribunal noted.
The order came on pleas by Wing Commander Shyam Naithani, who was senior air traffic controller, and Group Captain Suman Roy Chowdhury, who was chief operations officer, at Air Force Station Srinagar when the incident took place on February 27, 2019. Their pleas stated that following the IAF’s Balakot air strikes in which camps were demolished and several militants killed, the Air Force Station in Srinagar was put on high alert against attack from the other side of the border.
Subsequent to the ‘friendly fire’ incident of the IAF Mi-17 helicopter at Budgam, which left six IAF personnel onboard dead, a CoI was convened by the Chief of the Air Staff in March 2019.
‘Flaws in process’
Advocate Ankur Chhibber along with advocate Karn Deo Baghel, representing the two IAF officers who are facing court martial in connection with the incident, argued that the very composition of the CoI to investigate the Mi-17 accident was bad in law as it was in contravention of the Air Force Order.
“However, despite the fact that the CoI was not even competent to investigate the accident, it continued to conduct the proceedings,” the advocates contended. They also submitted that the CoI did not have a specialised investigation of the ATC aspect of the accident, which was a mandatory requirement.