Dalbir Singh’s post came under firing, and he jumped across a wall to escape. But a terrorist’s bullet incapacitated him

"There is no room for cowards in the Army," said the Supreme Court while approving the dismissal of a jawan who abandoned his post and failed to fire at militants during an encounter in Jammu and Kashmir way in 2006.

Dalbir Singh, posted with Rashtriya Rifles Battalion, pleaded that his track record was good and the court must be sympathetic towards him, considering this fact. The Army, which court-martialled him for two offences – showing cowardice in the face of aggression and failing to fire his AK-47 and service pistol — told the Court there was no room for such mistakes in a disciplined force.

The bench comprising Justices MR Shah and AS Bopanna viewed the matter from the prism of national security and dismissed Singh's petition.

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"In the matter of protecting the border," the Bench said, "a soldier cannot live merely on past glory but should rise to the occasion every time to defend the integrity of the nation since such is the trust reposed in a soldier."

Since his enrolment in April 1999 till the unfortunate incident in Darigidiyan village (J&K) on August 13, 2006, Singh's service record has been impeccable.

On the fated day, the Army had formed a cordon to trap insurgents, after receiving information about their presence in the area. Suddenly, the post Singh was guarding came under a bout of firing. Instead of retaliating, Singh abandoned his post and tried to jump across a stone wall to escape. However, a terrorist's bullet pierced his leg and took him down.

Taking advantage of the situation, terrorists killed another jawan posted with Singh, took his Light Machine Gun (LMG), and broke through the Army cordon.

A summary of court-martial proceeding said Singh was found guilty of cowardice and was dismissed from service on March 6, 2008. He was also sentenced to six months of imprisonment.

Loathe to treat the case as just another service matter, the bench felt that when the punishment relates to a member of a disciplined force, there can be no sympathetic consideration.

"The resources of the country are spent on training a soldier to retaliate and fight when the integrity of the nation is threatened and there is aggression," said the judges, "In such a grave situation, if a soldier turns his back to the challenge, it will certainly amount to cowardice."

The only saving grace was that the Bench set aside the imprisonment, considering 13 years had elapsed since the incident.