|Rights crusader Irom Sharmila being taken to
New Delhi to appear in
a case. File picture
New Delhi, March 6: The worldwide attention attracted by Manipur activist Irom Sharmila and the failure of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, to resolve militancy has prompted a high-level panel to recommend dilution of the legislation.
The Naresh Chandra committee has recommended disallowing of “continuous promulgation” of the army act in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast.
Dilution of the act has been recommended in separate chapters on Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast in the report that was submitted to the government in July last year after a year of work. The report may be made public this year “after editing”, the sources added.
The recommendations are vital in the light of India pushing for a bigger role in the United Nations.
Besides its composition, its mandate too lends credence to the committee. It was mandated in 2011 to make recommendations for reform of all security aspects of the country, including nuclear security. The committee includes the likes of Air Chief Marshal (retd) S. Krishnaswamy, General (retd) V.R. Raghavan and former department of atomic energy chief Anil Kakodkar.
However, despite a rising demand for the army act’s repeal — the Justice Jeevan Reddy committee had recommended its repeal in its 2005 report — there is stiff opposition from the army to any such move.
Leading the band of anti-act proponants in the Northeast is activist Sharmila who has been fasting for the past 12 years demanding repeal of the act. Her non-violent protest has mobilised the support of human rights activists throughout the world.
Sharmila began her fast in November 2000 after the “Malom massacre” in which 10 civilians waiting at a bus stop in Imphal West were allegedly mowed down by Assam Rifles jawans in retaliation to a rebel attack on a convoy of the paramilitary force.
“A government must be in control of its army,” Sharmila had said on Monday after being produced in a court here. She lashed out at any “administration of a government who uses violence as a means of governance”.
Sources said the committee, too, had used a similar argument to recommend amendment to the draconian act. The committee is understood to have argued that India, as a democratic state, could not grant right to its security forces to kill.
Section 4(a) of the army act grants security forces the liberty to “fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death” at anyone they feel is violating the law. Section 6 of the act then grants immunity to the army personnel who may have caused death of a citizen.
To remove arbitrariness in army action, the committee has suggested that the words “causing of death” should be removed from the act. Section 6 may also be amended if the committee’s recommendations are accepted.
In the Northeast, the act has been imposed for years now in Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, 22 police station areas of Tripura, in Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh in a 20-km belt along their borders with Assam and in Tirap, Changlang and Longding districts of Arunachal Pradesh.
The committee has, therefore, recommended that the act should not be “continuously promulgated”, sources said.
From 1980 onwards, it has not been lifted from Manipur, except for seven Assembly constituencies of greater Imphal area, since 2004.
Chandra and his team have felt that after decades of unresolved militancy, the act’s continuous promulgation could not be justified either in Jammu and Kashmir or in the Northeast.
If the committee’s suggestions are accepted, the act may not be extended beyond two years if the situation is said to have improved. “If there is no improvement, then the law is ineffective,” argued a senior official.
The committee’s argument, therefore, cuts both ways.
On January 23, Justice J.S Verma committee had recommended whittling down of the act. It said uniformed personnel, if accused of sexual assault, should be tried under ordinary law.