NEW DELHI, March 13: With the deposition of three witnesses produced by the Assam Riffles, the cross examination of witnesses for the first case of a total 6 cases being probed by a Supreme Court appointed Inquiry Commission has concluded. The sitting of the Commission had its 6th day of proceedings today at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi in continuation of the hearings at Imphal earlier from 3rd March to 7th March. The Supreme Court, after hearing two petitions filed by Human Rights Alert, Manipur, and the Extra-Judicial Execution Victim Families Association Manipur, had set up the commission on January 4 to probe the first six of more than 1,500 cases listed in the petitions.
The proceedings today started at Committee C room at Vigyan Bhawan with the Chairperson Justice N Santosh Hegde after noon, even as the proceedings were slated to start at 9.30 am. The Defense Counsel from the Ministry Defense sought ‘some time’ for an Army Major who was earlier deputed to the Assam Riffles in Manipur to reach the premises when the Commission assembled for the day. Following an update after a considerable lapse of time, the Counsel then informed the Commission that the said person was waiting for clearance from the Ministry of Defense. This led Justice Hedgre to adjourn the sitting till 12 but not before directing lawyers, media persons and other officials to give some time to alone with the Defense Counsels and the members of the Commission for a consultation. The nature of the Consultation was not made known.
When the Commission convened again at the delayed timing, Justice Hegde observed that the Commission had intimated about the time and date for the hearing today. Stating the dismay of the Commission members, he said said, “The place of the sitting of the Commission (New Delhi) was fixed at the request of the witnesses who were to be examined. The members of the Commission, members of the Learned Counsels, persons assisting the Commission and the parties were present at the required time.”
In the cross examination that followed, the Army Major who was then the Commander of the D Company posted with 21 AR took pains to point out that he was not involved in ordering the combined team of AR and the Thoubal Commandoes to fire on 14 year old Md Azad Khan on March 4, 2009. Interestingly, the leading person of the Commandos, Havildar Bronson Thanga had in his statements made in the earlier proceedings stated that the operation was led by Major Balhara. The subsequent cross examinations of two other Rifflemen as witnesses also showed inconsistencies in the nature of the joint operation. Major Balhara maintained that the deceased Azad Khan was already dead when he reached the spot while his accompanying rifleman and cook Maibam Gopal Singh said he heard people crying out ‘he is our son’ when he reached the spot, thereby indicating that the deceased was still alive when the joint team reached the spot.