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AFSPA Controversy: HAS SC JUMPED THE GUN?, By Poonam I Kaushish, 12 July, 2016 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 12 July 2016

AFSPA Controversy


By Poonam I Kaushish


Excerpt from an SMS reads: “Save State, save identity. Let us take oath, to wipe out the Army.” Welcome to the Gen Next version of militancy. Clearly, the chickens have come home to roost in distant Manipur last week. Tragically, exposing the Centre’s tenuous links with the North-East!


Notably, the Supreme Court made plain its annoyance with the situation in the State and stated that indefinite deployment of armed forces in the name of restoring normalcy under Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) “would mock at our democratic process”, apart from symbolising a failure of the civil administration and the armed forces.


Adding, “Merely because a person is carrying arms in a prohibited area, he or she becomes an enemy or an active member of a banned or unlawful organisation... Before a person can be branded a dreaded criminal or a terrorist or insurgent, it should be thoroughly enquired into to address allegations of use of excessive or retaliatory force beyond the call of duty.”


Throwing out the Government’s argument that lack of immunity from prosecution would have a demoralising impact on the security forces, the Court asked the Centre to spare a thought for the “equally unsettling and demoralising” picture of a citizen living under the fear of the gun in a democracy.


Further, the judges were critical of continuation of AFSPA in Manipur since 1958, reminding the Central and State Governments that the purpose behind deployment of Armed Forces was to ensure normalcy would be restored within a reasonable period. “Normalcy not being restored cannot be a fig leaf for prolonged, permanent or indefinite deployment of the armed forces…as it would mock at our democratic process”, it said.


Predictably, the two judge Bench verdict has sent cheer to the hundreds of families which went to court demanding a probe by a Special Investigation Team into 1,528 cases of alleged fake encounters involving the Army and the police. Even as it left red faces in the Establishment.

Raising a moot point: Should the (AFSPA) be withdrawn from Manipur where it has created social disharmonies affecting women and students? Can the Centre afford to take the risk of doing so? What will the Union and the State Government do to change the political landscape? How much more blood must be spilled before the Centre takes the required action on the ground? Knee-jerk reactions might attract headlines but can they really solve the problem?

All know the root cause of the problem is the indefinite continuation of AFSPA, the alleged ‘fake killing along-with the ongoing hunger strike by Chanu Sharmila since 2000 demanding its repeal, underlines the deep resentment against security forces who are often accused of extortion, arrests, torture and killing in cold blood. Adding to its woes is its political insignificance, only two MPs in the Lok Sabha.

Undeniably, revoking AFSPA from areas under Army operations would be akin to fighting insurgency with one’s hands tied. Moreover, by depriving troops of the immunity offered by the special laws it would sap their morale and impair operations. Remember, in 2004 AFSPA was lifted in Manipur but instead of reducing violence it aggravated it, resulting in its re-imposition.

Pertinently, the judges need to realize that AFSPA passed by Parliament on 11 September 1958 conferred special powers to the armed forces in “disturbed areas” in Arunachal, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura and was extended to J&K in July 1990.

Whereby, it empowers State Governments to declare a state of emergency, allows security forces to arrest people without a warrant in areas declared “disturbed”, shoot at sight even killing a person acting in contravention of any law" and gives security forces legal immunity for their actions, no prosecution or suit.

Besides, the State police might find it difficult to control things on its own. In that event the Army might not venture into areas where AFSPA is not in force, even in the event of a sudden spurt in violence. Also, in any anti-terrorist operation the world over commoners might become collateral damage. That is the price one has to pay for safety and peace.

Compounding matters, various insurgent groups force locals to pay extortion money repeatedly, leading to massive unemployment. Consequently, many go underground and get remunerative “jobs” in any of the nearly 15 insurgent groups operating in the State.


Recall 2006. In a shocking revelation, the then Army Chief Gen JJ Singh complained to then Home Minister Shivraj Patil that nearly six Manipur Ministers were hand in glove with the militants from NCN(K), PLA et al. Not only that. The Chief Minister Okaram Ibobi too had allegedly paid Rs 1 crore extortion money to militant outfits. Endorsed by a Nagaland Governor who told me that he was asked to cough up Rs one crore extortion money!

Plainly, with this scale of militant appeasement the North-East is up for grabs to the highest bidder. So, if politicians and militants are hand in glove, where does one go from here?

“We are sitting on top of a volcano which can erupt anytime. We have evidence of Central funds disbursed to the State Government for fighting militancy and development of the region being funneled to these militant outfits for buying weapons and ammunition. We are aware that about fifty per cent of the doles go to line the insurgents’ pockets,” stated an intelligence official.

Trails of new extortion rackets running into hundreds of crores by insurgents and recovery of huge cash stockpiles being used to recruit fresh cadre and for procuring new advanced weapons have added dangerous portends to the problem.

Not only that. For the first time heavier weapons like AK-56 assault rifles, imported hand grenades, large quantities of RDX and other explosives have been recovered. Chinese weapons and even some US arms are finding their way to these cadres through Bangladesh and Myanmar.

All in all we need to realize remember that the Armed Forces are operating in a highly hostile environment as well as for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist operations in the hinterland. In carrying out their duties the security forces need to ensure minimum collateral damage and safeguard human rights violations.

Against the backdrop of these operational constraints, the defence personnel require the full backing and support of the Government. Along-with the necessary powers and legal support to avoid any legal actions.

What next? Will the Government dispense with AFPSA? Is it willing to acknowledge without any sugar-coating that a grave problem exists before it can decide on the cure? New Delhi needs a reality check. The time has come for the Centre and States to think out-of-the-box.

The need of the hour is to understand the seriousness and set up time-bound measures. Less of political romanticism and more of practical calculations. Ultimately, we will have to go by the wisdom of UNESCO’s basic tenet: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defence of peace must be constructed”. ------ INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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