‘CRPF men fired indiscriminately on civilians as if they were in war’

CoI on Shopian killings

The one-man Commission of Inquiry (CoI) probing the last year’s civilian killings in south Kashmir’s Shopian district has observed that paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) resorted to “indiscriminate firing on the fleeing civilians as if they were engaged in a war.” The panel, headed by Justice (retd) ML Koul, has submitted its report to the J&K Government, a copy of which has been accessed by Greater Kashmir.
Pertinently, four persons were killed at Gagren area of Shopian on September 7, 2013 in firing by paramilitary CRPF, triggering Kashmir-wide protests and a subsequent probe by the state government. As already reported first by this newspaper recently, the Koul commission in its report has described three of the slain persons as civilians while the fourth as Abdullah Haroon, a militant. The killings took place on the day when conductor Zubin Mehta was in Srinagar for a concert at the Shalimar Garden.
In his 96-page report, Justice Koul—the former High Court judge—has termed the firing on the civilians as “unwarranted brutal attack and crime.”
“The Head Constable Ashok Kumar Pathania fired 26 shots  and constable Santosh Kumar made six shots due to which three people got killed instantaneously and the two people were injured, one of whom died subsequently. This is nothing but an unwarranted brutal attack in which innocent people got killed without any justification and authority,” the report reads. 
It reveals that 32 gunshots fired by Pathania and Kumar led to killing of three “innocent people of our state and they were not armed in any manner or form at all and were not militants or related with militant activities.”
The CoI has questioned why the Commandant of the concerned CRPF unit got the recovery of pistol and two hand grenades from the slain persons (through his men) when the police station Shopian was at a stone’s throw distance.
“The commission is wonder struck as to why the Commandant got the recovery of pistol and hand grenades through his men when it didn’t take long time for the police to reach the spot after the information was received by the SP and Deputy Commissioner Shopian that CRPF camp at the Gagren was attacked,” the report states.  
In his deposition before the panel, the CRPF commandant has maintained that the SP and DC Shopian (had) reached the spot seven to 10 minutes after the firing stopped. The commandant named US Shekhawat has told the Commission that he heard two to three gunshots at 12:30 am.
“He (commandant) immediately called SP Shopian on telephone and conveyed to him that the camp was under attack. After a gap of 2-3 minutes, the firing came to stop and the Commandant rushed towards the place of the incident along with his escort. Deputy Commissioner Shopian and SP Shopain reached the spot some 5-7 minutes after him,” the report, while quoting the commandant, reads.
Justice Koul while questioning the CRPF claims states: “No recovery has been made by the police from the spot; rather, the articles seized in the incident were produced before the police by the CRPF. In this regard, it is material to make mention of the statement of Muhammad Maqbool Wani, sub-inspector, police station Shopian, who immediately went to the spot to say that pistol and hand-grenades were not recovered by him from the bodies (and) rather these articles were entrusted to him by the CRPF.”
“Had the incident taken place faraway from Shopian and there was a possibility that the police couldn’t reach to the spot immediately, the CRPF authorities in that case were justified to seize the articles. As the incident had taken place at stone’s throw distance from police station Shopian, therefore there was no need for the CRPF to collect and bundle the arms and ammunition and create a doubt in the mind of the commission as to whether the said  articles were recovered from the deceased or not.” 
In its findings, the Commission has noted that the paramilitary CRPF personnel belied their own version during deposition and cross-examination before it. 
“The Head Constable Ashok Pathania belied the story build-up by the CRPF that the assailants were carrying arms like hand grenades by saying that he doesn’t know whether besides (sic) the pistol the assailants were carrying any other arms,” the report mentions. 
The commission has also questioned the CRPF assertions that “cover fire” was made upon them from a college side.
“The commission fails to understand as to when this fire came from the college side after the firing was over. Why didn’t the CRPF people caught hold of that man instantaneously or killed him?” the report reads.
The CoI has rubbished the investigation of Muhammad Afzal, then Deputy Superintendent of Police Shopian, into the incident.
According to report, Afzal on the “basis of tower locations of the mobile phones” of two deceased civilians and the fourth person  identified as Abdullah Haroon had claimed that the “trio was in league prior to the occurrence as well as the on the fateful day.”
“The telephone of Abdullah Haroon was switched off for two days i.e. 6th and 7th September 2013. This clearly shows that Abdullah Haroon didn’t chalk out any programme in advance with his so-called colleagues to attack the CRPF post at Gagren on 7.9. 2013. The same belies the investigation of Muhammad Afzal that Tariq Ahmad Mir, Muhammad Yosouf Sofi and Abdullah Haroon were in total contact prior to occurrence,” the CoI has held. 
The report further says: “It is quite amazing and surprising that Abdullah Haroon whose foot was hit by the firing and was running didn’t make use of the hand-grenades being held by him in his pockets.”
The identification of Abdullah Haroon, the CoI says, is based on statement of a militant arrested from north Kashmir’s Sopore area last year.
In the report, Justice Koul states that the arrested militant lodged at the Central Jail Srinagar identified the fourth deceased as Abdullah Haroon.

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