Dhananjay Mahapatra | TNN
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Manipur government how long the Army should be deployed in the state and enjoy unaccountable power under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and whether 35 years of the Army’s presence had improved the law and order situation.
The court had appointed a high-level inquiry committee headed by an ex-judge of the SC to inquire into allegations that the armed forces had carried out over 1,500 extra-judicial killings in the last 30 years and police were refusing to file FIRs because of AFSPA.AFSPA was imposed in Manipur on September 8, 1980 to tackle the lawlessness created by four main insurgent groups through dacoity, ransom and killings. Petitions by an NGO ‘Extra-judicial Execution Victims Families Association of Manipur’ and former director of Manipur Health Services Th Suresh Singh had sought withdrawal of AFSPA.
After getting the report and hearing the petitions, a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and U U Lalit told the state government, “AFSPA was supposed to be a temporary measure. But it has been there for the last 35 years. Two generations have grown up under the presence of Army. It was supposed to only aid the democratic government in tackling law and order situation created by insurgent groups.”
Appearing for the Congress-led Ibobi Singh government in Manipur, senior advocate V Giri told the court that AFSPA was still needed to maintain law and order as insurgency continued to thrive in the state given its porous international border. When AFSPA was imposed, there were four prominent insurgent groups, after 35 years, there were more than a dozen prominent insurgent groups in Manipur, he added.
The bench said, “AFSPA was imposed after declaring the state a disturbed area. You mean to say that in 35 years of Army presence in the state, the situation has not improved to remove the disturbed area tag from the state? Has nothing changed on the law and order front for the last three decades?”
Giri attempted to convince the court that democracy had deep roots in the state, which saw very high percentage of voting in the last several assembly elections. “The test is whether the general public is fed up with AFSPA? The answer is, it is not so. Democracy is alive and kicking in the state. Should the elected representatives not take a decision whether AFSPA should be withdrawn or not? People are not disgusted with Army presence in the state. The Army is not in conflict with the people,” Giri said.
However, he admitted before the court that not many FIRs were registered on complaints accusing Army personnel of extra-judicial killings.
The bench said, “One can discount one or two aberrations in the operations carried out in insurgency affected areas, but not in 70-odd cases. In all these cases, the complaint of the commoners or victims’ families had not been converted into FIRs.” It reminded Giri that Tripura has decided to do away with AFSPA
Petitioner Suresh Singh had said, “People of Manipur are not against the armed forces and, in fact, majority desires the Army to protect them against external aggression but everyone is against AFSPA which has been often misused.”
He had also sought quashing of a notification declaring the entire state as a disturbed area except for the municipal limits of capital Imphal, saying, “In the name of disturbed area status, widespread deployment of armed forces has created an alarming environment in which exceptions have become the rule.”
The petition filed by the NGO through Babloo Loitongbam said, “The legal mechanism has failed to ensure remedial measures relating to abuse or misuse of powers by the armed forces’ personnel, who are not held accountable for their illegal and inhuman actions robbing citizens of their most basic right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.”http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/SC-Is-AFSPA-in-Manipur-eternal/articleshow/50583447.cms