TODAY -

AFSPA and 1528 dead in Manipur encounters ; Time to revoke 'license to kill'?
Source: The Sangai Express / India Today (Prabhash K Dutta)

New Delhi, July 14 2017: According to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), - hearing which the Supreme Court today ordered a CBI probe into extra-judicial killings in Manipur - 1,528 people were killed in encounters by security forces in the state between 2000 and 2012 .

The Indian Army, the Assam Rifles and the Manipur Police have been accused of staging encounters and killing civilians in Manipur.

The forces enjoy special protection under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act imposed in the state.

In its defence, the Indian Army told the Supreme Court on April 20 this year that it could not be subjected to FIRs for carrying out antimilitancy operations in insurgency-prone areas including Manipur.

The Army also alleged local biases in judicial probe constituted against it.

The Centre, too, backed the Army saying that out of the 282 cases - referred to it for verification - 70 matters were found to be related to the Army and Assam Rifles while the rest concerned the state police.

Still, the Supreme Court not only directed a CBI probe in the killing but also decided to monitor the progress in investigation.

According to the Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association (EEVFAM) - the petitioner in the present Supreme Court case - and human rights activists, such a huge number of killings took place in Manipur due to the shield provided by the AFSPA.

The activists allege that the AFSPA gives blanket protection to the Army, the Assam Rifles and the Manipuri state forces to kill with impunity.

In 2013, the Supreme Court had appointed a committee headed by former apex court judge Justice Santosh Hegde to probe six "sample cases of alleged fake encounter" in Manipur.

Former Chief Election Commissioner JM Lyngdoh and former Karnataka DGP Ajay Kumar Singh were other members of the committee.

The Santosh Hegde committee found that none of the encounters probed by it was carried out in "self-de-fence" by the security forces.

The committee also found out that the encounters were not "genuine" and the victims did not have any criminal antecedent.

The AFSPA - like many other controversial laws -has a colonial origin.

The AFSPA first came as an ordinance in the backdrop of Quit India Movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi in 1942 .

A day after its launch on August 8, 1942, the movement became leaderless and turned violent at many places across the country.

Leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, VB Patel and a host of others had been put behind the bars.

Shaken by the massive scale of violence across the country, the then Viceroy Linlithgow promulgated the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Ordinance, 1942.This Ordinance practically gave the officers of the Armed Forces a "license to kill" when faced with a disturbance.

After Independence, Jawaharlal Nehru decided to continue with the law and enacted the Armed Forces Special Powers (Assam and Manipur) Act, 1958.Later, it was rechristened as the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

It was confined to some "disturbed areas" in the hills.

But, later, it was expanded to all of the seven states in the northeast.

It is in force for almost entire Manipur since LS80 -presently in the whole State except the Imphal Lok Sabha constituency.

It was also implemented in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir.

Punjab in 2008 became the first state to withdraw the AFSPA from the state.

When the British imposed AFSPA, it laid down some checks on the security forces.

Section 2 of the British law authorized an officer "not below the rank of Captain in Military Forces and any officer holding equivalent rank either in Naval or Air Forces" to issue written order to "use such force as may be necessary, even to the causing of death, against any person who-(a) fails to halt when challenged by a sentry, or (b) does, attempts to do, or appears to be about to do, any such act as would endanger or damage any property of any description whatsoever which it is the duty of such officer to protect." Such powers can be exercised in areas that the Centre or State has declared as "disturbed" under Section 3 of the law.

The 1942 Ordinance, however, put some conditions for exercising the power including "the proper performance of his duty" should be hampered by the individual against whom the force was to be used.

The British law was also restricted strictly to the officers of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

The offender must have failed "to halt when challenged by a sentry" meaning he must have ignored a warning by the security forces.

But, under the AFSPA, 1958, those checks were removed.

The AFSPA now covers state police, paramilitary forces like the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Border Security Force (BSF).

These forces are now authorized to use AFSPA "for the maintenance of public order." The AFSPA mandates that the counter-insurgency operations will be carried out the Indian Army and Assam Rifles in collaboration with the Manipur Police.

But, over the years the Manipur Commando or the CDOs - as they are known - have played bigger roles in these operations.

The CDOs were set up in 1981-82 by taking out personnel from the Manipur Rifles - the armed police wing of the Manipur Police.

They were trained by the Indian Army.

The arrangement continues even today.

Around 1,600 CDOs are there in Manipur fighting insurgency.

The activists have blamed all these forces for carrying out fake encounters in Manipur.

About 66 complaints have been lodged against the Assam Rifles over the last five years.

But, action has not been taken in even one case.

Three of the complaints were acted upon by the Assam Rifles but the findings of the probe were not made public.

Noted activist Irom Sharmila led long Gandhian battle against AFSPA before joining the democratic process earlier this year when she contested elections from two seats in Manipur.

She lost from both seats.

Earlier this year a suspended constable of the Manipur Police admitted to staging encounter saying that it was part of the counter-insurgency strategy.

The revelation made a strong case for revoking AFSPA from the state.

Tripura showed the way in May last year by withdrawing AFSPA from the state after 18 years.

The state government credited the Narendra Modi government of the Centre for revocation of AFSPA from Tripura.

Incidentally, from December 1, last year the Manipur government extended the AFSPA in the state for another year.

But, the Supreme Court ruling for CBI probe may be a ground to do away with the AFSPA - which the apex court had termed last year as "failure of the civil administration" - from Manipur.


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