Lt-Gen D.S. Suhag is considered the front runner for the post of Army Chief
A petition over the killing of three men in an alleged fake encounter, which names Lt Gen Dalbir Singh, considered the front-runner for the post of army chief, as one of the main respondents, was taken up by the Manipur High Court on Monday.
The Army challenged the High Court's jurisdiction to take up the petition, demanding action against Singh, currently the vice chief, and two other officers for their alleged involvement in the killing of the three men in 2010.
The petition, filed on Saturday by the brother of one of the victims with the backing of the Human Rights Law Network, claimed action should be taken against Singh in his capacity as former head of Rangapahar-based 3 Corps because an intelligence unit of that formation was allegedly involved in the fake encounter.
During the brief hearing, the Army's counsel questioned whether the Manipur High Court had the jurisdiction to hear the case as the killings had occurred at Dimapur in Nagaland. Sources close to the petitioner's counsel Khaidem Mani told Mail Today the court had scheduled the next hearing for Wednesday, when it will listen to arguments on whether it has jurisdiction to hear the case. The court itself had pointed out that the killings occurred in Nagaland and the bodies were found in Assam.
"The petitioner's counsel will attempt to satisfy the court that it has jurisdiction to hear the matter," a source said.
The petitioner's counsel Khaidem Mani is also president of the All Manipur Bar Association. Army sources contested the contents of the petition. They pointed out that the incident took place in January 2010 and Dalbir Singh took over as head of 3 Corps only in March 2011. The Corps was headed by Lt Gen N.K. Singh when the incident allegedly occurred.
Observers have questioned the timing of the case, as it was filed soon after reports suggested that the central government is close to naming Dalbir Singh as the successor to army chief Gen Bikram Singh, who will retire on July 31.
The proposed appointment is at the centre of a controversy after former Army chief V.K. Singh, who is contesting the polls as a BJP candidate, questioned the apparent haste shown by the government to appoint Dalbir Singh as the chief. V. K. Singh contended that the decision should be left to the new dispensation that will be in place after the poll results on May 16.
As Army chief, V. K. Singh had imposed a promotion ban on Dalbir Singh over the alleged "rogue" behaviour of the intelligence unit of 3 Corps.
The killings in Dimapur were cited as one of the botched operations by the unit. The petition against Dalbir Singh surfaced mysteriously in the middle of the ongoing controversy. The petitioner, Phijam Manikumar, claimed his brother Phijam Naobi was abducted from Char Mile area of Dimapur with two others – R K Roshan alias Ronald and Thounaojam Prem alias Romen – on March 10, 2010.
Manikumar claimed the men were abducted by the intelligence unit of 3 Corps but the GOC refused to cooperate with police. He also alleged the commanding officer of the unit, Col Govindan Shreekumar, was behind the killings and cited letters purportedly written by his second-in-command Maj T Ravi Kiran to higher authorities to make this claim.