Is the Army incapable or uninterested in protecting one of its officers ~ admittedly under a cloud ~ against threats from militants in Manipur? That was the query raised through a somewhat strange plea in the apex court by a lieutenant-colonel who said he was receiving death threats from a militant group. He claimed the group had “framed” him after he had led a crackdown against it.

The vacation bench of Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and Ashok Bhushan, however, granted him no immediate relief, and said his plea for transferring the case from Manipur to Chandigarh would be processed when normal hearings are resumed after the summer break. Maybe greater light would be thrown on the issue ~ it was merely mentioned before the vacation bench ~ next month. Yet it either projects the Army in poor light for not assuring the officer that the militants would not harm him, or points to the officer playing the facts to have the case transferred from a court in Manipur, possibly in the belief that the atmosphere there was inimical. Either way, the matter is serious.

When mentioning the matter, counsel for the officer said he had suffered 60 per cent disability during a counter-insurgency operation in Kupwara (J&K) for which he was awarded a Sena Medal in 2002. He was subsequently transferred to the intelligence wing of the Assam Rifles and posted in Manipur. He claimed that his unit had put the militants under such pressure that over 100 had surrendered, and some had been neutralised.

Following this the militant group, the People’s Liberation Army, had falsely implicated him in a disproportionate assets case, which was being investigated by CBI and he had been placed under suspension. When he was attending a hearing of the case in an Imphal court he received the death threats. The officer claimed his unit had been monitoring the activities of a PLA leader.

The issue has various implications. Have the militants succeeded in so compromising the CBI that it frames an award-winning officer, conducts a probe against him, causes him to be suspended? Does the Army not have enough safeguards in place to see that effective officers are not subjected to such harassment, issued death threats? Under such circumstances, officers would be wary of acting against militants, who often have the backing of local politicians and even the lower courts.

On the other hand, if the officer is indeed involved in financial misdoings, and using his track-record to shield those irregularities, he merits the most stringent action. The cases in the apex and CBI courts will take their own course, the Army needs to conduct its own probe to clarify the picture. There is no place for “dodgy” officers, nor can upright and efficient personnel be falsely implicated in CBI inquiries. The uniform must be respected.