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Chief Judicial Magistrate acquits Sonam Wangchuk in 6-year old case

By Reach Ladakh Correspondent | Friday, July 19, 2013
The Chief Judicial Magistrate Leh acquitted Sonam Wangchuk (SECMOL) of all charges levelled against him in 2007 by the then Deputy Commissioner Leh Mr. MK Dwivedi (IAS). The DC Leh had, among other charges, accused Sonam Wangchuk of having anti-national connections in China, criminal intimidation of government functionaries, illegal occupation of state land etc.

“This raises some serious questions nationally Sonam Wangchuk said, “Isn’t it a serious threat to national security in this sensitive border region when an officer of the Indian Administrative Services (IAS cadre) frivolously but officially accuses a loyal Ladakhi of ‘anti-national/Chinese connections’. Isn't the government itself sowing the seeds of anti-national sentiments in a sensitive region like Ladakh?" He further questioned, "Are there safeguards to prevent bureaucrats from framing up cases and misuse serious acts like the ‘J&K Public Safety Act 1978’ to settle personal scores or the ‘Section 144 of CPC’ to stifle peaceful public protest against such misuse of power?"

In 2006-2007, there was a prolonged struggle between the NGOs in Leh and the Deputy Commissioner Mr. MK Dwivedi. The row started soon after Mr. Dwivedi’s transfer to Leh in March 2006. The face-off started a day after a Conference on Youth & Employment organised by the District Industries Department on 3rd April 2006. In this conference, Sonam Wangchuk Director SECMOL (Students' Educational & Cultural Movement of Ladakh) made an allegedly offensive statement. While saying that Ladakhi youth should go for private entrepreneurship rather than waiting for government jobs alone, he made a passing remark stating ‘In government jobs people live off of tax payers’ money whether it is a Chief Secretary, DC or a small peon’. Apparently offended by this on 4th April 2007 the Deputy Commissioner issued a general letter to all NGOs in Leh including religious institutions, accusing them of misuse of funds and demanding monthly reports of accounts to the DC’s office.

When the NGOs protested this generalization and submitted all their accounts and reports to the Chairman of the elected government of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council instead of the Development Commissioner’s office, the matter became more complicated. In the ensuing confrontation the Mr. Dwivedi froze the bank accounts of some NGOs, and lodged FIRs against others for reasons like damage to a check dam during floods of 2006. To yet another NGO an official letter was issued threatening to raze their buildings to ground as their land was not officially allotted.

In the end seeing that Sonam Wangchuk was playing a leading role in this confrontation, the DC formally accused him with the following 

1. Criminally intimidating government officials and public representatives,

2. Illegal occupation of 200 Kanals of state land,

3. Misappropriation of funds under FCRA,

4. Anti-national connections with China that may be exploited for anti-national activities (This was clearly done with the intention of framing a case under the draconian ‘J&K Public Safety act’ under which an individual can be imprisoned for 2 years without trial.) 

Based on these charges an FIR was lodged with SSP Leh and the court case that followed lasted for six years. 

Finally on 10th July 2013 the case was closed after 36 hearings. The Chief Judicial Magistrate Leh, in his judgment stated “After detailed perusal of the prosecution witness examined in support of the charge sheet, I found no incriminating evidence against the accused.… Due to lack of evidence the accused is acquitted from the charges”

Mr. MK Dwivedi the complainant and the Primary Witness No 1 in the case did not even appear before the court to defend the case. He was summoned several times by the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate Leh, including once through the offices of the Chief Secretary of the J&K state.

And lastly he said, "On this occasion I also appeal to the people of Ladakh and its leadership to rise to the occasion and defend fellow citizens if this happens in future to any other Ladakhi of whatever cast, creed, religion, region or political thought." To raise awareness about our own legal rights in general and human rights in particular as equal citizens of India. To work for setting up a branch of the National Human Rights Commission in Leh.”

He further added, "It is also sad that as a result of the above event there was massive damage to the NGO movement in general and the education reform movement like Operation New Hope in particular. The Matriculation results in Leh which had been as low as 5% pass for decades had touched 55% and remained above 50 % until 2006. Ever since this unfortunate event and the withdrawal of NGOs the results have rarely risen above 40%."

When asked about restarting the education movement he answered," If LAHDC is ready to pass a resolution then definitely I will start and if resolution is not passed tomorrow another Dwivedi comes and destroys everything".

The movement ONH initiated by SECMOL was replicated in other parts of India and was acclaimed nationally and internationally.  President APJ Abdul Kalam had inaugurated the 2nd phase of the ONH movement in 2006 and taken it as an example for the nation in his Independence Day speech that year.  

He was appointed on the National Governing Council of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan at MHRD in 2004 and was recently appointed to the J&K State Advisory Board on Education. 

For his work and for the success of ONH movement, Sonam Wangchuk received several awards including the Governors Medal of J & K State in 1996, Man of the Year by the Week Magazine India in 2001, Ashoka Fellowship by Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, 2002, Green Teacher Award by Sanctuary Asia Magazine in 2005 and India Real Heroes Award by CNN IBN Channel in 2008.  According to the CNN-IBN channel, their story on Sonam Wangchuk inspired one of Bollywood’s biggest ever hits – the film ’3 idiots’.  






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