The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Report thumbs down army act, with rider

New Delhi, Oct. 8: The committee constituted by Delhi to review the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has recommended that the legislation be repealed, albeit after incorporating certain features into the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 2004.

Calling it an inadequate legislation, the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee has said that the special powers act is perceived as a symbol of oppression in the Northeast. The committee’s suggestion to retain some of its features thr-ough the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act has, however, kept rights groups on the boil.

“The Reddy committee has sought to justify this by seeking to empower intervention by the armed forces everywhere and not only in Manipur. The suffering of the people of Manipur will now become the suffering of people all over India,” said Colin Gonsalves of the Human Rights Law Network.

The five-member committee was constituted in 2004 after the death of a Manipuri woman, Thangjam Manorama, in Assam Rifles’ custody. The Manorama case triggered an agitation that peaked with a dozen women protesting naked in front of the gate to the then Assam Rifles headquarters at Imphal’s historical Kangla Fort.

The Reddy committee’s report identifies the lack of accountability of the armed forces under the special powers act as the “main failure” of the legislation.

The report notes that Article 355 of the Constitution — mentioning that it is the duty of the Centre to protect states against external aggression and internal disturbance — is adequate for the army to be deployed by the Centre in a state, if deemed necessary.

But the report sounds a word of caution. “As soon as public order is restored or the internal disturbance is quelled, the forces have to be withdrawn to their barracks.”

Acknowledging concern over violation of human rights by the armed forces, the committee recommends “grievance cells” in all districts where the army is deployed for counter-insurgency duties.

Each three-member grievance cell should be headed by a subdivisional magistrate and also include an officer of the rank of a Captain or above from the forces operating in the region as well as a state police official of the rank of deputy superintendent of police or above.

The recommended amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act include some of the most contentious clauses of the special powers act. Among these is the authority given to the armed forces to open fire on a person on grounds of suspicion that he/she may be a terrorist.

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