No let up on AFSPA

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Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar harps on the same tune like his predecessors regarding the imposition of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the northeast and Jammu & Kashmir. He says that the Indian Army cannot operate in civilian areas without a contentious act that gives it sweeping special powers or immunity for that matter. He had said, AFSPA is needed to “proceed and act” in certain areas while immunity to soldiers should be total. In short, the army would be completely helpless if it has to operate in civilian areas without the support of the act. This, in fact, has been the argument of the army lobby all along. Among the provisions of the AFSPA, any commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or any other person of equivalent rank in the armed forces may fire upon or otherwise use force if he is of the opinion that it is necessary to do so for the maintenance of public order. A soldier, however, needs to first give a warning before opening fire. The armed forces can destroy arm dumps, make arrests without warrants and can enter and search premises without a warrant to make an arrest. The act, however, requires the forces to promptly take an arrested person to the nearest police station. The act provides that no prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the central government. The AFSPA came into force in the northeastern states in 1958 after the Naga tribes rebelled against the govenrment and continues to be in force there. It is also in force in Assam, Manipur, and parts of Arunachal Pradesh. State human rights activists had filed a petition in the Supreme Court in 1980 challenging the constitutionality of the Act was framed on the similar lines with the colonial Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance of the British days. While the colonial ordinance gives absolute powers to a captain, independent India gives such powers to a non-commissioned officer. After 17 years, the Supreme Court upheld the act while giving certain dos and don’ts to the army. However, the directive of the apex court was not followed in letter and spirit. In 2004, in the wake of the rape and murder of a girl Manorama intense agitation followed the lifting of AFSPA from the seven assembly segments of the Imphal Municipal area. Meanwhile, the braveheart Irom Chanu Sharmila continues her fast unto death campaign for repealing the Act. Yet, the state and centre refuses to consider the demand of the Manipur people as the Defence Ministry and the army establishment lobby continue to resist the demand saying that it is not possible for the armed forces to operate without the special powers given in the act, as against the recommendations of the Jeevan Reddy Committee and Administrative Reforms Commission. So, a question mark on the attitude of the Indian establishment towards the Northeast and Manipur in particular rises which will lead to further alienation of the Manipur people.

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