The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Major, rifleman guilty in Ajit custody death

Guwahati, July 24: The army today announced that an officer of the rank of major and a rifleman have been found “guilty” in the Ajit Mahanta custody death case, the trigger for one of the strongest waves of protest in the Northeast against alleged excesses by armed forces.

A statement issued by the media officer of the Tezpur-based 4 Corps said an army court had ruled that Maj. Nishant Sharma of the 1/3 Gorkha Rifles would “forfeit one year of service for promotion, which will have an adverse effect on the officer’s future career prospects”.

Another member of the same unit, rifleman Sudeep Gurung, was “sentenced to suffer rigorous military imprisonment for two months”, the statement said.

“The findings (of the court of inquiry) and sentence announced by the military court are subject to confirmation by the higher army authority”.

The court martial team assembled on June 3 and examined six civilian witnesses and 17 army witnesses during the course of the trial, which was conducted at an army base at Lohitpur in Arunachal Pradesh for over a month. The court martial concluded on July 18.

“The general court martial, based on evidence given by various witnesses, including civilians, found two of the accused persons guilty under various sections of the IPC or Army Act,” the army statement said.

Ajit, a daily-wage worker from Kakopathar in Tinsukia district, died in custody on February 5. He had been picked up for his alleged links with the banned Ulfa.

The custody death led to unrest across the state and even had an impact on the negotiations between the Ulfa-constituted People’s Consultative Group and the Centre.

The intensity of the agitation increased after eight residents of Kakopathar died in police firing on protesters. Another of those seriously wounded in the firing died later.

The army paid Rs 2.05 lakh in compensation to Ajit’s wife and the state government added another Rs 5 lakh. The army also built a house for the family and decided to financially “adopt” Ajit’s two children.

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