JAMMU: Two civilians were killed and another was injured in firing outside an army camp in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district on Friday, leading to massive protests and demands for a fair probe.
While the army said in a tweet that some “unidentified terrorists” had started firing at the camp, eyewitnesses claimed a sentry posted at the gate opened fire at approaching locals, resulting in the casualties.
However, a senior army officer later termed the incident “very unfortunate” and assured action against those involved in it.
“FIR has been registered with regard to the early morning incident. We assure a fair probe in a professional manner. Police were the first to reach the scene after the firing and they shifted the injured to a hospital,” Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police Haseeb Mughal told reporters.
Rajouri residents Kamal Kumar and Surindar Kumar, both in their late 30s, were killed and Anil Kumar from Uttarakhand was injured, police said.
Following the incident, locals, carrying their bodies, blocked the Jammu-Poonch national highway for nearly seven hours and demanded a probe into the matter and adequate compensation to the families of the victims.
They relented only after senior administration, army and police officials assured them of action, including registration of FIR.
The bodies were taken to the Rajouri Government Medical College for postmortem and other legal formalities, Mughal said.
Police said the firing took place around 6.15 am when a group of people, who worked as porters, were approaching the ‘alpha’ gate of the camp, located along the highway and about 150 kms from Jammu.
Though the army claimed that “unidentified terrorists” started firing at the camp and in retaliatory fire, the two people were killed, eyewitnesses denied it and alleged unprovoked firing by the sentry.
Locals raised doubts over the army’s statement as they saw no standard operating procedures being followed — cordoning off the area and calling of a quick reaction team.
Rajouri Deputy Commissioner Vikas Kundal, Deputy General Officer Commanding (GOC) 25-Infantry Division Brigadier S Malik and DIG Mughal, along with other officials, pacified the protesters, who burnt tyres to block the highway and also threw stones at the camp.
While Kundal assured the demonstrators of a magisterial probe, Malik said the army will extend full support in the investigation.
“Senior district administration officials were on the ground to persuade the protesters and stop the violence. Forensic and ballistic tests, and spot inspection will be done as part of the investigation, the report of which will be shared later,” Mughal said.
Besides assuring a magisterial probe into the incident, the deputy commissioner also said ex-gratia relief, according to norms, will be given to the kin of the deceased.
“Demand for employment to the kin of the deceased will be looked into,” Kundal was heard telling the protesters.
Brigadier Malik termed the incident “very unfortunate” and said those found guilty will be punished according to the law.
“The army will extend full support to police and in material probes. As far as compensation to the victims’ families is concerned, we will help them as the army is here to help and protect the people,” Malik told the protesters.
Officials said though the highway was reopened, but the situation in the town remains tense but under control.
Earlier in the day, the army’s White Knight Corps, in a tweet from its official handle, said “In an early morning firing incident by unidentified terrorists at Rajouri near Military Hospital, there has been fatal casualty of two individuals. The police, security forces and civil administration officials are on the site.”
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said, “Tragic that two innocent lives were lost allegedly due to firing by the army. An impartial probe must be carried out to ensure that culprits are punished and justice is served.”
BJP Jammu and Kashmir president Ravinder Raina said he will take up the issue with Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha and assured the victims’ families of a fair investigation in the incident.
“It is a grave incident and I have talked to the concerned army, police and civil officers who assured that it will be investigated and the guilty will be punished,” he said.
Raina said that the two deceased worked in a canteen in the Army camp and were going to work when they were shot dead. Sources said that the duo was working in the canteen for last 15 years.