Tinsukia, May 9: Budheswar Moran was innocent, after all.
The very army that gunned down the temporary tea worker in an “encounter” on Saturday and branded him an Ulfa militant said in a chastened tone today that it had been a mistake.
“The killing of Budheswar Moran was an unfortunate incident and my heart goes out to the innocent family members of the victim. Let me assure you that all those found guilty will face strict and exemplary punishment,” the general-officer-commanding of the Dinjan-based 2 Mountain Division, Maj. Gen. N.C. Marwah, said at a hurriedly organised media conference at Tinsukia Circuit House.
He said the army had already instituted a court of inquiry to fix responsibility for the incident.
A team from the 6 Jammu and Kashmir Rifles shot dead Budheswar, 24, at Laopatty in Tinsukia district. A resident of Kordoiguri village under Doomdooma police station, the slain youth was allegedly seeing moving about suspiciously at Laopatty village. He was “challenged” on refusing to obey the army team’s order to stop. The army said he fired from his pistol and tried to escape, forcing the soldiers to retaliate and bring him down.
Like yesterday and the day before, around 10,000 villagers from the district blocked National Highway 37 near Don Bosco School, Rupai, since morning today.
Gen. Marwah visited Doomdooma along with other senior army officers to meet the protesters. The GOC apologised to the villagers for Budheswar’s death and urged them to co-operate with the administration in restoring normality in the district.
The sequence of events was strikingly similar to the aftermath of Kakopathar-based Ajit Mahanta’s death in army custody in February last year. The army promised Budheswar’s family, comprising his wife and two daughters, the younger one barely three months old, a “rehabilitation package” on the lines of the one offered to Ajit’s spouse and sons.
Gen. Marwah said the army would also ensure that the “justice delivery system is not unnecessarily stretched and justice is not delayed”.
Hemanta Narzary, commissioner of the Upper Assam Division, is conducting the civil inquiry into Budheswar’s death. He said the government was working out a compensation package for the slain youth’s family in consultation with the army.
The army delegation and bureaucrats representing the government met leaders of the organisations leading the blockade to seek their “co-operation”. But Birinchi Neog, convenor of the People’s Committee for Peace Initiatives in Assam, said the onus was on the people of the area to call off their agitation or continue it.
“The agitation to seek justice for Budheswar Moran was a spontaneous act. We cannot take any decision unilaterally,” he added.
Industry and power minister Pradyut Bordoloi, who is from Tinsukia district, and legislators Bolin Chetia, Durga Bhumij and Rajendra Prasad Singh, met the protesters separately.
Bordoloi said chief minister Tarun Gogoi had sent him to convey the message that a proper inquiry would be conducted and the guilty punished. He said the government would give Rs 3 lakh to Budheswar’s family.
Not many seemed convinced. “This was expected. What else can politicians assure us of' The army will continue killing innocent people and the government will do the job of instituting inquiries. The chief minister, who is now the boss of the Unified Command, should send a clear and strong message to the army to stop atrocities,” said Lakhaya Konwar, spokesman for the All Assam Tai-Ahom Students’ Union.