New Delhi, June 6: After seven months of “extensive discussions” with individuals and organisations in five northeastern states, the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee today submitted its report on the contentious Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, to Union home minister Shivraj Patil.
Though the contents of the report were not disclosed, the five-member review committee is understood to have recommended amendments to several sections of the legislation, which guarantees special powers to armed forces engaged in counter-insurgency operations in states of the Northeast.
“The report has been prepared after extensive discussions with various sections of society. The report and its recommendations are unanimous,” Justice Reddy said.
Patil said the committee’s findings would be placed before the cabinet soon.
The staunchest opposition to the legislation has come from Manipur, where the death of a woman, Thangjam Manorama, in Assam Rifles’ custody last year triggered a momentous uprising. Such was the intensity of the agitation that 12 elderly women protested naked in front of the historic Kangla Fort ' then the headquarters of the 17 Assam Rifles ' and several youths attempted self-immolation.
The review committee was constituted after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assured the Apunba Lup, which spearheaded the agitation, that the legislation would be examined and possibly replaced with a “more humane act”.
At the time of handing over the Kangla Fort to the Manipur government on November 20, the Prime Minister said: “Having given my assurance that we will try to redress the legitimate grievances on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, we have set up a committee to review the provisions of the act. The committee will suggest checks and balances in the act or replace it with a more humane law which takes into account your legitimate aspirations and national security concerns. It will complete its work in six months. I hope the work of this committee will result in lasting peace and harmony.”
The army, however, is not in favour of making any change in the act, let alone repeal it. The defence ministry has already conveyed the army’s reservations about possible amendments to the legislation, arguing that it would affect the morale of troops, who have to take enormous risks while dealing with militants.
Apart from Justice Reddy, the review committee had former vice-chief of the army Lt Gen. (ret) V.R. Raghavan, former Marathwada University vice-chancellor Shivraj B. Naked, former special secretary in the home ministry P.P. Srivastava and Assamese journalist Sanjoy Hazarika.
The committee visited Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura, where it interacted with hundreds of people, including representatives of 50 civil rights organisations, political parties and NGOs. The Apunba Lup, however, boycotted all the hearings conducted by the panel.
Barring areas within Imphal municipal limits, the Disturbed Areas Act was recently retained in Manipur for another year despite howls of protest from the Apunba Lup and the threat of a more violent movement than the previous one.
The retention of the Disturbed Areas Act means the armed forces will continue to assist the state government in maintaining law and order, and exercise special powers. The decision not to lift the act was taken during a cabinet meeting on May 30.