The Armed Forces Tribunal has stayed proceedings against two senior officers accused of shooting down a Mi 17V5 chopper over Budgam erroneously after the Balakot airstrikes last year. The AFT said that prime facie there appeared to be faults in the court of inquiry process.
The principal bench of the tribunal has asked the Air Force to suspend any action against Group Captain Suman Roy Chowdhury, the then second-in-command of the Srinagar base as the Chief Operations Officer (COO) and the Air Traffic Control (ATC) in-charge, Wing Commander Shyam Naithani till further hearing.
“We find that various statutory provisions of the Air Force rules and regulations are prima facie demonstrated to have been violated in the matter of conduct of the court of inquiry,” the tribunal observed, referring to Rule 156 (2).
Appearing for the officers, Ankur Chibber argued that the defendants were not given an opportunity to defend themselves when the court of inquiry was conducted. In the coming hearings, the Air Force will put across its point of view. The tribunal has said that its observations were not final. “We may clarify that all observations made in this order are prima facie in nature only for the purpose of considering the question of interim relief and cannot be termed as final determination by us at this stage,” the order reads.
As reported by ET, the two officers facing court martial for alleged role in the ‘friendly fire’ that shot down the chopper had approached the tribunal to stop proceedings against them and grant them access to the court of inquiry report. Usually, the court of inquiry report is shared with the accused so that they can prepare a defence. In this case, however, a special clause was invoked not to share details on grounds of national security. After portions of the report were shared by the IAF, it lead to the next legal hurdle where the inquiry itself has been questioned on the grounds that the officers were not given a chance to be part of the witness cross-questioning to present a defence.
ET was the first to report that a friendly fire happened over Budgam amid an air skirmish with Pakistan on February 27, 2019. The IAF helicopter was shot down by a Spyder air defence system within 10 minutes of takeoff even as a dogfight raged over 100 km away between intruding Pakistani jets and the Indian Air Force. Six IAF personnel on board and a civilian on the ground died in the crash.