| Manipur police personnel clean up a street at Kongba Bazar in Imphal East on Thursday. The street was littered with broken glass and stones thrown by protesters during the past two days. Picture by UB Photos
Guwahati, Aug. 19: Gauhati High Court today temporarily exempted the commandant of the Assam Rifles’ 17th battalion, Col Jagmohan Singh, from appearing before the C. Upendra judicial commission appointed by the Manipur government to probe the killing of Thangjam Manorama.
Justice B.K. Sarma posted the case for hearing on August 27 on a prayer made by Jalaluddin, the advocate appearing for the Manipur government.
The inquiry commission had virtually collapsed on August 11 after lawyers representing five civilian parties pulled out of the probe panel in protest against “non-co-operation” by the Assam Rifles in the inquiry.
The high court, however, permitted the commission to record evidence in-camera in terms of the panel’s order dated August 7, wherein it had rejected a prayer of the Assam Rifles to hold the commission’s proceedings inside Kangla Fort, the headquarters of Assam Rifles.
The Assam Rifles had sought shifting of the venue to Kangla Fort to ensure the safety and security of its personnel who had been summoned by the commission as witnesses. The commission had issued summons on August 11, asking Col Singh to appear before it.
Appearing for Col Singh, advocate A.K. Phookan, assisted by Manish Choudhury, R.J. Phookan, M. Jha and S. Nath, argued that the Assam Rifles is functioning in Manipur to help the civil administration and the state government has no authority to constitute an inquiry in a matter pertaining to the Centre.
They also argued that no sanction was obtained under Section 6 of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act before proceeding against the Assam Rifles personnel and thus the proceeding is unauthorised.
On August 7, P.. Choudhury, the central government lawyer, had questioned the locus standi of the commission to proceed against the Assam Rifles personnel. The contention was, however, rejected by the commission on the ground that it was only a fact-finding body and the question of obtaining sanction before starting the proceedings did not arise.
Apart from Col Singh, the commission has summoned four other Assam Rifles personnel — naib subedar Digambar Dutt, havildar Suresh Kumar and riflemen T. Lotha and Ajit Singh.
The Ibobi Singh government had constituted the commission on July 13 to probe the circumstances leading to the death of Thangjam Manorama, who had been shot dead by troops of the 17th Assam Rifles after they picked her up from her house in Imphal East on July 11.
The Assam Rifles has maintained silence after the announcement on July 27 that its own court of inquiry had found “lapses” on the part of the troops. It did not elaborate on the lapses.
In another development, Apunba Lup, the federation of 32 organisations which is campaigning against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, in Manipur, today rejected Union home minister Shivraj Patil’s offer of holding talks, adds our correspondent from Imphal.
Altogether 19 of the 21 leaders of the organisations spearheading the agitation, who had been rounded up by the police in the past few days, were booked under the National Security Act (NSA) and sent to jail after being produced before the court of Imphal chief judicial magistrate, Parmeswar Singh, today.
Sources said the CJM court had released all the 19 leaders on bail, but police re-arrested them under the act. However, their detention under this act would be confirmed by a competent board constituted by the state government, a source said.
Those detained include five of the dozen women who had protested naked in front of Kangla Fort on July 15. Several leaders of United Committee, Manipur, and two student activities were also detained under the NSA. However, Thokchom Ramani, who had led the naked protest, was not booked under the act.
In New Delhi, as Union home minister Shivraj Patil faced questions on excesses by the armed forces at an interaction with reporters, he made clear that he was not only entrusted with protecting the human rights of the insurgents but also of civilians and security personnel who lose their lives because of insurgency, reports our correspondent.
But Patil made it a point to emphasise that neither he nor the armed forces would not flinch from punishing guilty security personnel who have committed excesses.