BDR to empower its battalions
The Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) is going to propose in its draft law and reform policy provisions for punishment and promotion of soldiers by their own battalions in a bid to decentralise the force.
"These two issues solely depend on the headquarters of the force. But we think as the soldiers work under direct command of the battalions, the officers of the battalions know better about them," comments a BDR official.
"We are proposing in the draft law to empower the battalions to ensure punishment for offences and promotion for good performances," the official explains.
The border guards have finalised the draft in the wake of the Pilkhana carnage and mutiny across the country on February 25-26. The draft of new law and policy includes provision for adapting a new name and highest capital punishment for mutiny.
Insiders say the draft is likely to be submitted to the home ministry by next week, adding, the power of awarding punishment would be decentralised and battalions of the force would be empowered more in this regard.
The border force has 46 battalions under 12 sectors and approximately 38,000 soldiers work under the 46 battalions.
According to the existing BDR Act, 1972, the director general of the force conducts the trial for mutiny.
But the draft of the new law proposes that the DG convene the court comprised of other officers whenever it is necessary and would never preside over any court of the force himself.
"If the draft is approved by the government and passed in parliament, the new law would be named as proposed -- Border Guard Bangladesh Law [Bangladesh Simanto Bahini Ain]," says a BDR official involved in formulation of the draft law.
The existing law allows the authorities to jail any soldiers for highest seven years for involvement in mutiny. The convicted soldiers may also be fined and dismissed from job.
But the force cannot try grievous offences like murder as the existing law does not empower its court to hand down capital punishment.
As a result, the force is currently conducting the trial of mutiny by its own court, while the accused of killing, looting, arson and other grievous offences will be tried in civil courts.
BDR sources say the draft law proposes to empower the BDR court to award highest capital punishment for mutiny or provoking a mutiny.
The draft law would also allow a convict to appeal against the punishment or submit a prayer for exemption from the punishment, which is absent in the existing law.
It also proposes to have a special tribunal in the force where a convict can appeal against the conviction.
The special tribunal can check the trial proceedings to decide about the appeal. It would be empowered to cut, add or even exempt the punishment handed down by the BDR court.
Now the power of awarding punishment is very much centralised in the force, and only the headquarters can exercise it when necessary. But the new law proposes to give such power to the battalions, which directly command the troops in the field, say sources.
"As part of brining decentralisation, the authority of punishing a member of the force for any sort of unruly activities would go to battalion level," adds the official.
"Besides the appeal provision in the special tribunal, a convicted soldier can also be able to apply for exemption," the official continues.
But the convicted soldier would be allowed to apply for exemption on condition that he wouldn't challenge the decision of the special tribunal.
Any convicted soldier would be able to apply for exemption to the immediate superior officer of the official, who gave the verdict.
"We are going to suggest such provisions to modernise the law and uphold human rights to ensure check and balance in the entire trial proceedings," adds the official.
Insiders say there is no clear definition or interpretation of many offences in the existing BDR Act. But the draft law is proposing to incorporate definition of many offences, which are not at least allowed in a disciplinary force, or make those clearer.
Citing an example, a source says there was very sketchy definition about bribery and border crimes, which actually did not help the force take any action in this regard.
But the proposed draft law would elaborate more about such crimes.
The BDR authorities would also propose in their reform proposal to decentralise the power of promoting staffs.
The official says currently only the officers can get immunity for doing something wrong in good faith. But the draft law offers immunity also to the soldiers.
Meanwhile, the three-member BDR court starts trial of 7 Rifles Battalion today at the 41 Rifles Battalion headquarters, reports our Satkhira correspondent.
BDR DG Maj Gen M Mainul Islam would lead the court, which also has Lt Col Khalid and Maj Lutful Karim as members.
The court is set to try at least 61 accused soldiers of 7 Rifles Battalion at Nildumur, said Lt Col Iqbal Azim, commanding officer (CO) of 41 Rifles Battalion.
Of the accused, 34 are behind bars, while the others will be hauled before the court during trial, the CO added.