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Meeting harps on army act

Naresh Chandra with Mukul Sangma in Shillong on Monday. Picture by UB Photos

Shillong, Nov. 19: National Security Advisory Board chairman Naresh Chandra today said a move has been initiated to gather the views of the public on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in the Northeast where people — like Manipur rights crusader Irom Sharmila — have been demanding its repeal for years.

“We are gauging the feelings of the people before we go back,” Chandra, also a former cabinet secretary, told reporters when asked about the army act after he met chief minister Mukul Sangma here this evening.

The statement comes after recurring demands to repeal the act.

On November 5, Sharmila completed 12 years of her fast on the contentious issue.

However, Chandra did not elaborate whether the views would formally translate into any decision on the act.

The army act was passed on September 11, 1958, and grants special powers to the armed forces in the “disturbed areas” of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura.

It was extended to Jammu and Kashmir in July 1990.

Recently, the Northeast Dialogue Forum, a conglomeration of several NGOs in the region, said the act had been branded “racial” in nature by the UN committee on elimination of racial discrimination, which “has found beyond proof that the act is racially discriminatory”.

Chandra also stressed the need to seal the borders “intelligently” while improving relations with neighbouring countries.

“Sealing the border has to be done in an intelligent way. You have to manage the border and allow some kind of interchange between countries along the border,” he said. “Myanmar is a friendly country and we have a lot to gain by improving relations with Bangladesh and at the same time, we cannot allow illegal entry.”

Highlighting the issues that the board had taken up in its meeting held earlier, Chandra said the deliberations were on overall infrastructure development in the region.

“We discussed what more can be done to develop this area and improve the security situation. We discussed road and rail connectivity, airline services, and the upgrade of airfields in places like Shillong,” he said.

At the same time, the board discussed how to control incursion of arms, better policing, enhanced border management and improvement of technical education centres and strategy to attract more investment.

On food security in the region, Chandra said the problem did not exist in the Northeast.

However, he made it clear that the board was not here on a problem-solving mission.

“We are not coming here for problem-solving, but to discuss how the government is responding to these challenges,” Chandra said.

Stressing the importance of governments to provide employment opportunities, he said, “People should have sufficient employment opportunities or else they not only get frustrated, but resentful. It follows from what we have discussed on development, manufacturing units, and better utilisation of local products.”

On the various peace processes in the region, he said a special team in New Delhi is working on the issue.

Tomorrow, the board will meet members of NGOs here tomorrow to gain insight into various security-related issues.