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Why an Indian Army Major can’t just meet a woman at a hotel anywhere

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There are clear rules that govern the conduct of military officers and they are prohibited from civilian areas in sensitive zones unless on duty.

New Delhi: Major Leetul Gogoi, who was at the centre of Kashmir’s human shield row last year, was briefly detained Wednesday after an altercation at a Srinagar hotel.

The trouble started after the hotel manager refused to allow a young local woman into the room that the officer had checked into. The girl was accompanied by a man, who has been identified as Sameer Malla, an alleged confidant of Gogoi, who is posted in Budgam.

The Army Major from 53 Rashtriya Rifles made headlines in April 2017 after he tied a civilian, Farooq Ahmed Dar, to the front of his jeep to deter stone pelters from attacking his convoy.

The latest case has now led to a debate on whether the officer’s conduct warrants action and on whether he broke Army protocol.

Consent, source and Army protocol

Questions have been raised on what Gogoi did wrong by seeking to meet a woman who was willing to meet him.

A high court lawyer who is an expert in military law, however, told ThePrint: “Irrespective of whether the girl was a consenting adult or not, action can be taken. The quantum of punishment depends on senior authorities. He may be let off with a reprimand, and the punishment may not be so harsh.”

Gogoi allegedly claimed he was meeting a source but a military expert said this isn’t the norm. “Normal officers don’t meet sources in such a fashion. That is the job of specialised intelligence officers. Even if he was meeting a source, it is critical to know whether his superiors were aware of his actions,” the expert said.

Also read: Indian Army chief wants to revolutionise the military — by cutting manpower

Reprimand to court martial — the possible action

According to Section 41 of the Army Act, 1950, if Gogoi’s superiors were unaware of his meeting, he could be called up for ‘disobedience to a superior officer’. On conviction by court martial, this attracts a sentence of 14 years or less.

Under this section, even officers not on active duty can be sentenced to up to five years in prison or less depending on senior authorities.

“It remains to be determined whether Gogoi was on sanctioned leave or unauthorised leave. Even if an officer is on leave, he is required to submit the address to which he is travelling to his seniors,” said a military expert.

Under Section 45, an officer is “liable to be cashiered or to suffer such less punishment” if found indulging in unbecoming conduct. Gogoi’s alleged meeting with a civilian in a sensitive area falls under this section.

“If at all Gogoi is married, the case gets even more complicated since it can be considered unbecoming conduct,” the military expert told ThePrint.

Then there is Section 63.

It states: “Any person subject to this Act who is guilty of any act or omission which, though not specified in this Act, is prejudicial to good order and military discipline shall, on conviction by court-martial, be liable to suffer imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years or such less punishment as is in this Act mentioned.”

Under this section, said the military expert, officers are prohibited from civilian areas in sensitive zones unless on duty.

“The important question to ask is – he is posted in Budgam, what was he doing in Dal Lake? In areas such as Kashmir, officers aren’t allowed to visit civilian zones unless specifically ordered,” the expert said.

The military law expert said that contact with a civilian in a sensitive area can draw charges under all of the above sections. He, however, cautioned: “This is all speculative. Depending upon the investigation, the situation can lead to administrative action or court martial. But it is up to the senior authorities to decide that.”

This article was originally published on 24 May, 2018

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