The Maha Vir Chara and the Vir Chara are India's second and third highest wartime gallantry award

Colonel B Santosh Babu, the commanding officer of 16 Bihar regiment, who was killed during a clash with Chinese soldiers in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley last year, will be posthumously awarded with Maha Vir Chakra on Republic Day.

Five other soldiers who displayed outstanding courage during the Galwan Valley skirmish with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army have been awarded war-time gallantry awards. While a Maha Vir Chakra was announced for Col Babu on the eve of Republic Day, the other five soldiers have been awarded Vir Chakra. The MVC is India’s second-highest wartime gallantry award followed by the VrC. Four of the VrC have been awarded posthumously.

The VrC awardees are Naib Subedar Nuduram Soren (16 Bihar) (posthumous), Havildar K Palani (81 Field) (P), Havildar Tejinder Singh (3 Medium), Naik Deepak Singh (16 Bihar) (P) and Sepoy Gurtej Singh (3 Punjab) (P).

Babu’s citation said: “Undaunted by the violent and aggressive action by overwhelming strength of enemy soldiers, the officer in true spirit of service before self, continued to resist the enemy’s attempt to pushback Indian troops. Despite being grievously injured, Colonel Babu led from the front with absolute command and control despite hostile conditions to deter the vicious enemy attack at his position.”

The soldiers involved in the skirmish had fought off numerically superior Chinese troops at the cost of their own lives in the remote Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh on June 15, 2020. The infantry battalion’s 37-year-old commanding officer, Colonel Babu, was among the 20 Indian soldiers killed in the seven-hour deadly conflict near Patrolling Point 14 in Galwan Valley, where outnumbered Indian troops inflicted heavy casualties on the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Beijing has not disclosed the number of fatalities it suffered.

Apart from 16 Bihar, soldiers from 3 Punjab, 3 Medium Regiment and 81 Field Regiment were involved in the first deadly conflict between Indian and Chinese troops along the LAC in more than five decades.

The first wave of fighting in Galwan Valley erupted around 6 pm on June 15 after Colonel Babu led a squad of 30 soldiers to a location near PP-14 to verify if the PLA had removed some structures erected in the area despite an understanding reached on June 6 by top Indian and Chinese military commanders on a disengagement plan to reduce rising border tensions.

The squad, however, found that a few tents and an observation post were still intact and the Chinese soldiers had not retreated from PP-14. The Indian soldiers confronted the Chinese troops, who refused to remove their installations and vacate the area, triggering a violent clash that involved more than 600 rival soldiers at its peak.

Brigadier Sanal Kumar (Retd), who has served in 16 Bihar and later commanded 12 Bihar, “Colonel Babu enjoyed the reputation of being a sane and balanced officer even as a youngster. It reflected in the way he handled the situation in Galwan Valley last year. As the CO of the unit, he could have sent someone else to PP-14. But he went there himself to ensure that things stayed under control. The gallantry awards are a well-deserved recognition of the bravery of Babu and the men who fought under his command.”

Brigadier Kumar said Col. Babu and his men were taken by surprise because the PLA had pre-planned the attack. “The PLA only achieved initial surprise. Indian soldiers turned the tide with their courageous actions,” said the Brigadier who retired in 2017.