| Police remove protesters in front of Raj Bhavan where Union minister of state for home Sri Prakash Jaiswal held a news conference in Imphal on Wednesday. (PTI)
New Delhi /Imphal, July 21: Delhi today attempted to douse the flames of the anti-army agitation in Manipur by assuring the people that the Assam Rifles would vacate Kangla Fort, the scene of the naked protest by a dozen women, by the end of the year.
Union minister of state for home S. Regupathy said in the Rajya Sabha that the Assam Rifles would shift to Maha Koireng in Imphal West district, where a new base is “in an advanced stage of construction”.
He blamed the Manipur government for the delay, saying it had yet to provide basic facilities like electricity, water supply and roads at the new location.
Regupathy’s ministry colleague Sri Prakash Jaiswal, who was sent on a fact-finding mission to Manipur, said in Imphal that the paramilitary force would surely complete the process of shifting by December 31.
Scores of organisations have long been demanding the Assam Rifles’ ouster from Kangla Fort. The issue was raked up after Thangjam Manorama was killed in custody. The Assam Rifles claims that she was a Peoples Liberation Army “corporal” and an expert in the use of explosives.
Without making any reference to the Assam Rifles’ claim, Regupathy said in the Upper House that there were more than 20 militant outfits active in Manipur. “Their activities include ambushes on security forces, extortion of money from the public and transporters on the national highways and siphoning off development funds,” he said.
The other Union minister of state for home said in Imphal that security forces would henceforth involve police and women personnel in counter-insurgency operations.
He said the army’s court of inquiry into Manorama’s killing would complete proceedings by July 27 and that anyone found guilty would be given exemplary punishment.
The post-mortem report was formally handed over to the army today. The report states that she was not raped or molested, as has been alleged.
“The Centre is committed towards ensuring that the due process of law is strictly adhered to and the guilty are awarded exemplary punishment at the earliest,” Jaiswal said at the news conference at Raj Bhavan before he returned to Delhi.
Jaiswal appealed to the people of Manipur to call off their agitation so that the Centre and the state could speed up development.
The minister reviewed the situation with governor Arvind Dave, chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh and senior civil and army officials. He also met representatives of several NGOs of the state. Opposition legislator L. Ibomcha Singh of the Federal Party of Manipur (FPM) was taken into police custody after he and his supporters staged a demonstration in front of Raj Bhavan. They shouted slogans in support of the popular demand to lift the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from Manipur.
Another legislator of the same party staged a similar demonstration when the Union minister was at a meeting with the chief minister at the Raj Bhavan. He was arrested and freed on bail.
The police fired a “stunt bomb” and burst teargas shells to disperse a group of slogan-shouting women in the same area. The demonstration was staged at noon, after a six-and-a-half-hour relaxation of the curfew. The Union minister, who heard the commotion, enquired about it from Raj Bhavan officials.
Replying to a volley of questions on the alleged violation of human rights by security forces in Manipur, Jaiswal, who read out a prepared statement, said Delhi would ensure that incidents such as Manorama’s killing do not recur.
Efforts will also be made to create awareness among security forces about the Supreme Court’s guidelines on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, he said.
The minister also assured the people that the security forces would strictly follow the instructions on the issue of arrest memos and handing over arrested persons to the police.
On the demand to withdraw the armed forces act, Jaiswal said the state government would take a decision on the subject on or before August 15 in consultation with the Centre.