The Indian Army on Sunday said that it has initiated general court martial proceedings against Captain Bhupinder Singh for killing three men in a gunfight in Amshipora village of South Kashmir’s Shopian district in 2020.

The Army said a Court of Inquiry found that the troops had exceeded the powers vested to them under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, or AFSPA, PTI reported.

“The Court of Inquiry and the Summary of Evidence indicated a need for disciplinary proceedings,” a statement issued by the Srinagar public relations officer (Defence) said. “Indian Army is committed to ethical conduct of operations.”

AFSPA gives Army personnel sweeping powers in “disturbed areas” to search, arrest, and open fire if they deem it necessary for “the maintenance of public order”.

The three men – Abrar Ahmed, Imtiyaz Ahmed and Mohammed Ibrar – were killed on July 18, 2020, in an alleged staged gunfight on suspicion of being militants. The family members of those killed had claimed that the three men killed were labourers.

In January 2021, the Jammu and Kashmir Police in its chargesheet had said that Singh had tried to destroy evidence in the case.

Singh also did not give any information about the source of weapons planted on the three deceased youths and provided wrong facts to his superiors and the police about the recovery made during the staged encounter, the chargesheet said.

In the chargesheet, police had also alleged that Singh had conspired with two civilians to carry out the operation for reward money of Rs 20 lakh. However, the claim was refuted by the Indian Army saying there was no system of cash reward for its security personnel.

Besides Singh, police had named Tabish Nazir, a resident of Chowgam village of Kulgam district, and Bilal Ahmed Lone, a resident of Arabal Nikas in Pulwama district, in its 1,400-page chargesheet, according to PTI.

The killing

On July 18, 2020, the security forces had said that they received specific inputs about the presence of militants in South Kashmir’s Shopian district, after which they began the operation.

They claimed that the suspected militants had opened fire at the security forces. However, family members of the civilians had come forward to clarify that they were labourers and not militants. The families of the deceased had sought immediate arrest and conviction of those responsible for the incident.

A formal inquiry into the deaths of the three men began in August 2020. The Court of Inquiry, which completed its investigation in September of that year, found prima facie evidence that its personnel misused powers under AFSPA. Disciplinary proceedings under the Army Act were initiated against the accused personnel.

On December 25, 2020, the Army had said that it had completed the Summary of Evidence in the inquiry, though it did not reveal any details at the time.