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Plea To Trace Army Officer Who Went Missing From Pakistan Border In '97 : Supreme Court Asks Centre To Inform Mother Of Steps Taken

Sohini Chowdhury
4 Aug 2022 2:18 PM GMT
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The Supreme Court, on Thursday, asked the Union Government to follow up on the steps taken by the concerned authorities to trace the whereabouts of Capt. Sanjit Bhattacharjee, an Indian army officer who went missing from Indo-Pak border 25 years ago, and apprise his 83-year old mother about the same, on a quarterly basis.

The Court was hearing a writ petition filed by the mother of the missing officer seeking directions to trace him.

"We impressed upon the Union Government the need to follow up on the steps by pursuing the matter with the concerned authorities. The petitioner may be periodically kept apprised of further steps or developments that have taken place, preferably on a quarterly basis", the bench directed in the order disposing of the petition.

As stated in the petition, on 19 April 1997, a platoon of 17 soldiers including her son went out for patrolling at the border in the Rann of Kutch. On 20 April, 1997, 15 soldiers had returned without the petitioner's son and another platoon member, Lance Naik Ram Bahadur Thapa. It appeared that they had gone missing in suspicious circumstances at the time of patrolling.

Additional Solicitor General Mr. K.M. Nataraj clarified that though the Union Government has made all efforts to trace the two soldiers, Pakistan had not yet acknowledged their presence.

"We have been communicating, but their presence itself has not been acknowledged by Pakistan."

He informed the Court that the concern of the petitioner can be taken care of only through diplomatic channels of Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi

"We are trying our best. Everything has to be sorted out through the diplomatic echannel. We will file a status report. Nothing further could be done at the moment."

A Bench comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and J.B. Pardiwala noted that the 2 soldiers (including Capt. Bhattacharjee) who had gone missing from the platoon of 17, are presumed to be dead and the Union Government has already paid homage to them.

"Really very unfortunate. 25 years, the man is missing. And nobody took up the cause . Both are presumed to be dead for you have already paid homage."

Mr. Nataraj clarified that though the Union Government has made all efforts to trace the two soldiers, Pakistan had not yet acknowledged their presence.

"We have been communicating, but their presence itself has not been acknowledged by Pakistan."

Advocate Saurabh Mishra, Counsel for the petitioner urged the Bench to constitute a committee chaired by a retired General to look into the issue. Considering that the matter is in the realm of the diplomats, the Bench declined to constitute a committee.

The mother had moved the Apex Court seeking a direction to the Union Government to take immediate and necessary steps regarding the repatriation and release of her son from the Lahore Kot Lakhapat, Central Jail, Pakistan.

According to the petitioner, her son is an Indian Army officer and has been languishing in some unknown jail of Pakistan, but no appropriate action has been taken for his release by the Government. Therefore, it has resulted in the gross violation of his fundamental rights. It is averred that it is the solemn duty of the Government of India to safeguard the right to life of every citizen of India, including his son.

The petitioner was informed on 23rd April, 1997 that her son had remained untraceable. Thereafter, the petitioner reached out to the concerned authorities so that the information regarding the whereabouts of her son can be obtained.

On 5th March, 2021, the Apex Court issued notice in the matter and directed the Union Government to file an updated status report. Accordingly, an affidavit has been filed on behalf of the Ministry of External Affairs stating that the Government of India has been pursuing Capt. Bhattacharjee's case regularly through diplomatic and other channels. They had assured the Court that steps were being taken to trace his whereabouts.

[Case Title: Smt. Kamla Bhattacharjee vs Union of India & Ors, WP (Crl) 104/2021.]


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