ARREST OF A VETERAN: GROSS MISUSE OF AUTHORITY

An unfortunate development in Noida around Independence Day has been gradually attracting national attention. It has caused great hurt and concern to Noida residents and raises issues of great significance to all Indians.

On 14 August a retired army Colonel aged 76 years was arrested from a park near his home in Noida around 9 AM, handcuffed, paraded, taken for a medical before being produced in court, and jailed by 4 PM, on a complaint of molestation, kidnapping, assault, and charges under the SC/ ST Act, levied by the Colonel’s neighbor. The remarkable alacrity of the police, seldom seen in even heinous crimes of rape and murder, where even getting a FIR recorded takes major effort, was perhaps due to the neighbor being till recently, Dy CEO of Noida Authority, now posted as Assistant District Magistrate (ADM) Muzaffarnagar.neighbor being till recently, Dy CEO of Noida Authority, now posted as Assistant District Magistrate (ADM) Muzaffarnagar.

As per media reports Mr Harish Chandra owns a flat above that of Colonel VPS Chauhan, in Sector 29 Noida. Neighborly relations have strained over unauthorized construction and encroachment by Mr Chandra, which was reported to Noida Authority by Colonel Chauhan. Only limited action was taken due to Chandra being the Deputy CEO Noida Authority. The strained relations continued, following the former’s posting to Muzaffarnagar, as Chandra’s family stayed on, accompanied by the official paraphernalia of security and support staff.

As reported, on 14 August, as Colonel Chauhan was in the park, awaiting a taxi ordered by him to go to a regimental function, he was accosted by Chandra accompanied by his gunman and Mrs Chandra. An argument and a quarrel followed wherein the Colonel was beaten up by the trio, following which Mrs Chandra called up the police, accusing Colonel Chauhan of charges of molestation, kidnapping, assault and violation of SC/SC Act. A posse of Noida police appeared soon, as if on cue and arrested the Colonel.

With equal speed the Colonel’s cook, domestic staff and two visitors staying with him were also rounded up and locked up with the same charges pressed on them.

Everything worked like clockwork. Everything worked to plan.

Except the CCTV installed in the park that recorded a different story and totally called off the bluff.

The incident sent shock waves across Noida. Colonel Chauhan is a respected valorous soldier from the elite 1 Parachute Battalion which, like all army units, places great stress on motivation, teamwork and cohesion independent of caste or creed. He has participated in 1965 and 1971 Indo Pak wars and served in the Siachen. Since retirement, Colonel Chauhan has been involved in social service by conducting free training for youth joining defence services from Eastern UP-Ajamgarh, Gorakhpur, Jaunpur etc. That he should violate elements of the SC/ST Act by heaping insult on anyone from that community is unimaginable, as is the charge that a 76-year-old will ‘molest’ someone. Ex Servicemen (ESM) reaction was swift. A press conference was held and facts placed before media; Noida Administration and Police hierarchy were met, to bring the truth to their notice, backed by proof — the CCTV recording, that showed the ADM and his wife beating the Colonel along with the former’s gunman. Consequently, the more serious, non bailable charges, were withdrawn. The SHO and concerned CO of the Police contingent that arrested and handcuffed the Colonel were posted out the very next day. But it took another five days for Colonel Chauhan to be released on bail, after submitting two securities of Rs 60,000 each. Colonel Chauhan’s cook and other members of the household could only come out after another few days.

Ironically, the cook and another person arrested from the Colonel’s house, and charged under SC/ST Act, are themselves from SC/ST category. What a twist, or shall one say, mockery of justice! Surprisingly, their attempts to file a FIR over the unjust police action have not succeeded at time of reporting.

As the matter became better known particularly through vernacular media and the active ESM community interacting with state administration and posting updates on social media, the higher administrative echelons in the state swung into action and suspended the ADM and issued arrest warrants against the Chandra couple who went into hiding to evade arrest and succeeded in getting anticipatory bail. It is reported that they are trying to give the incident a political coloration, insinuating that the police are gunning for them due to their being SC/ST. This overlooks the fact that the issue is an individual’s misconduct and has nothing to do with caste.

Noida Authority has dismantled the extensive encroachment at the Chandra household.

As news spread, ESM communities across North India have expressed their angst and shock over the issue. ESM protests and dharnas in support of Colonel Chauhan are reported in Noida, Dehradun, Lucknow, Chandigarh and Bhopal. Various RWAs in Noida have expressed their solidarity with the veterans in the stand to get justice for Colonel Chauhan and have been participating in related protests. As caste is never a consideration for Faujis, many protesting ESM are from the SC/ST category themselves. This issue is about misuse of power and connections and has nothing to do with caste.

This incident highlights blatant misuse of power and provisions of law by ADM Muzzafarnagar, to settle a personal issue with a neighbour. Saved by a CCTV recording, and heavily supported by a large ESM community that could project the true nature of the ADM’s mischief, Colonel Chauhan’s advantage may not be available to all citizens. It’s sad that an Assistant District Magistrate, expected to dispense justice, could have taken recourse to such malicious practice. How can a citizen feel safe in this environment?

The incident points too, to the dangers of absolutism in acting against anyone without investigation. Current laws entail anyone charged under SC/ST Act, being jailed in the first instance, until case is decided. This has potential for misuse, provides as it does, a community with a ‘No Questions Asked’ power to wield, just by reporting that a grievance occurred. Its one’s word against reality! This has great dangers to national productivity and development as it provides unmitigated powers to a certain segment of society against the other larger group. It will be in national interest to inject a balance between the need to safeguard SC/ST dignity and interest and prevent misuse. Justice obviously must be two sided.

Following a thirty years army service, the author has variedly worked in the Corporate, been an entrepreneur, and is engaged in social work. The Book ‘Eklavya: Rare Insights into India’s Soldiery’ an anthology of essays on multiple facets of India’s soldiery, aiming to create a better understanding among citizens about their Defence Forces, is edited by him.

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