Court martial begins in robbery case

Jorhat, Oct 5: The army has commenced court martial proceedings at the 3 Corps headquarters in Rangapahar near Dimapur against havildar Sandeep Thapa for his involvement in a sensational robbery case in Jorhat last year.

Police investigations revealed that on December 21, 2011, a heavily armed group broke into the house of businessman Poona Gogoi alias Surojit Gogoi, tied up his wife and children and decamped with Rs 1.5 lakh in cash, gold ornaments, three mobile phones and a .32 licensed pistol.

The 3 Corps authorities have requested Gogoi to appear and give his statement during Thapa's hearing. However, Gogoi expressed surprise as to why only havildar Thapa was singled out, even though a 15-member group of army personnel, including a lady officer, was involved in the robbery.

"The crime was not committed by Thapa alone. The entire team that entered our residence was collectively involved in the crime. It is surprising as to why (only) Thapa has been found guilty," Gogoi said.

Gogoi, who has already deposed before an army court of inquiry, said around 15 army personnel came to his residence and eight of them, including a lady officer, entered his house and decamped with cash and valuables.

"I have no idea about the findings of the army court of inquiry conducted by Brig. A. Bhuyan, but it is surprising why Thapa alone was found guilty," he said.

The police got a hint of the army's involvement by tracking one of the phones that the gang had taken away. Havildar Thapa had been making regular calls from that mobile phone to his home in Himachal Pradesh.

Initially, the army had stated that the incident was part of an operation, carried out on the basis of intelligence inputs. But it did not go according to norms. Later, however, they admitted the involvement of army personnel in the incident.

The police registered a dacoity case in this regard and interrogated several army personnel who were allegedly involved in the case. However, no one was arrested because of "pressure" from the state home department to "go slow on the case".

The army also returned some of the items that were taken away from Gogoi's residence.

Authorities of 3 Corps were in a spot regarding the incident. Former army chief Gen. V.K. Singh had sent a show cause notice to Lt Gen. Dalbir Singh, GOC of 3 Corps, regarding the incident.

In the letter, the army chief charged the GOC of "abdicating responsibility" in handling an intelligence and surveillance unit in a "most unprofessional and lackadaisical manner".

Sources said that Army has been desperately trying to save the lady officer who led the team.

"Putting the blame on Thapa would ensure that the lady officer was not responsible for snatching the items from Gogoi's residence. Pressure has also been exerted on Thapa to take the entire blame," a source said.