Once hailed as a hero, BSF commando Anubhav Atrey is now in a downward spiral.
The assistant commandant from the 113 Battalion of the Border Security Force, who featured in a documentary created by the National Geographic Channel on the agency that’s India’s first line of defence, is now facing court martial over a “civilian death”.
Atrey purportedly got into trouble over self-defence action that resulted in the death of a Bangladeshi teenager last year in a suspected case of cross-border gold smuggling.
The incident took place on May 14 last year when the officer was deployed at Banpur post of BSF in Krishnaganj village of West Bengal’s Nadia district.
The killing sparked a furore in Bangladesh at a time when BSF chief KK Sharma was on a visit to Dhaka for talks with his counterpart, putting pressure on the force to act against one of its own.
COMPARISONS DRAWN BETWEEN ATREY AND MAJOR GOGOI
Many officers have drawn comparisons between Atrey and Major Leetul Gogoi of the Army’s 53 Rashtriya Rifles branch, who, in a controversial move, tied a man to a jeep in Kashmir’s Budgam district and used him as a human shield against stone-pelters. Gogoi got the backing of the Army chief, even earning a commendation card from him.
Sources say Atrey’s case is a story of the right man at the wrong place at the wrong time.
According to sources close to the officer, on the night May 13, 2016, the intelligence branch of BSF passed on information to the troops of possible gold smuggling near the Indo-Bangla fence. The officer gathered a team of 7, armed with one pumpaction gun, a non- lethal weapon, and INSAS rifle, and waited in ambush for the smugglers.
In his statement to the court of inquiry, the officer said, “There were 12-15 gold smugglers who came close to the fence with 2 carrying packets of gold articles to be thrown across to the huts in the Indian side, while 10 of them were carrying sharpedged weapons (machetes or da). But at 10 am, as the smugglers came close to the fence, the BSF constable in the team rushed without any arms to apprehend the suspects.”
In the panic which followed, the officer said he sensed that the smugglers speaking in chaste Bengali told each other “niye jaai (drag the constable into Bangladeshi territory)”.
Another one said, “maar”, which the officer said meant that there was a life-threatening situation for his junior. Atrey said he decided to use the non-lethal weapon, firing the first shot in the air.
The second shot was taken following the standard operating procedure (SOP) at the waist from a distance of 40-50 metres as the miscreants did not honour his appeal and became more aggressive. The shot hit a boy who later died in Bangladeshi territory. Based on an understanding between the BSF and BGB, the border guarding force of Bangladesh, patrol parties on both sides keep a mix of lethal and non-lethal weapons.
After this the smugglers ran to safety across the fence. Minutes later, the commandant informed the officer that the Bangladeshi force had informed them of a “civilian death”.
The two forces held a flag meeting where the BGB was allegedly convinced by the officer’s explanation. But facing heat from Bangladeshi media and the incident looming large over successful talks between the Indian and Bangladeshi contingent, sources say, Atrey became a scapegoat. The court of inquiry blamed the BSF troops for faulty planning but did not recommend any action. But before Atrey could heave a sigh of relief, he was called in for further recording of evidence. The officer who left a teaching job in Kendriya Vidyalaya says he now regrets his decision.
MORE ABOUT ANUBHAV ATREY
Ranked 4th in the all-India ranking in the central armed police force examination in 2010, Atrey had the option of joining the CISF but chose BSF. He went on to win accolades, becoming a gold medallist in 2015, beating commandos from 23 CAPF and state police in a countrywide competition.
Atrey even got a DG’s commendation card.
Sanjiv Sood, former ADG with BSF, said, “Major Gogoi got an unfair backing, as he was in violation of law. But in this case, Anubhav Atrey went according to the principle of law…The inquiry has let him down. He has to now face the harrowing process of court martial. I believe a wrong message has gone to jawans and officers.”
Mail Today spoke to another officer privy to the probe, who said, “The court of inquiry has been fair. The teenager killed was a boy who got a large wound on his back. The photos and postmortem was shared by the Bangladeshi authority.” He said field visit by senior officers also punctured Atrey’s theory that he shot below the waist.
Another officer said, “The gold smuggling angle is also not holding true.” Atrey, who was shunted out to Samba following the incident, is back with his battalion in south Bengal where he says he has got a letter informing him of court martial proceedings.