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Hope for AFSPA activists

New Delhi, March 22: Activists campaigning for the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act are enthused by a Supreme Court-appointed judicial panel’s conclusion of hearings on extra-judicial killings in Manipur.

The three-member judicial commission, headed by Justice Santosh Hegde, heard six selected cases from 528 cases of alleged extra-judicial killings mentioned by rights groups in a petition to the Supreme Court. The hearings were held in Imphal and New Delhi this month where several officers of the Manipur Rifles, police and army faced questions.

Activist Babloo Loitongbam said today that human rights groups were extremely satisfied with the “transparent manner” in which the panel conducted its hearings. The apex court-appointed judicial commission, which also has former Chief Election Commissioner J.M Lyngdoh and former Karnataka director-general of police Ajai Kumar Singh as members, is expected to submit its report to the Supreme Court within a week.

Organs of the State, namely the Manipur police and the defence ministry, may have reasons for consternation as the hearings indicated.

On March 13, the first day when Justice Hegde and his co-panellists reached Vigyan Bhavan Annexe to hear the case, they were shocked to find that army officers to be questioned were absent. The counsel for the ministry of defence said the officers were seeking clearance from army headquarters that morning.

“The armed forces do not have the basic courtesy towards a Supreme Court-appointed commission. We have shown patience. Have witnesses not taken clearances till now?” Justice Hegde had asked.

The hearing was put off till the afternoon, when an army officer presented himself before the panel. Counsel for the petitioners Mukul Sinha grilled the officer in connection with the alleged fake encounter of Mohammed Azad Khan. Sinha, who has fought a sustained battle to seek justice for the survivors and kin of the victims in Gujarat, took up the case for alleged fake killings in Manipur.

Although the judicial commission’s mandate was to hear the particular cases, Loitongbam hoped that the outcome could lead to recommendations that should affect the way security forces operate.

He also hoped that the commission’s report does not meet the same fate as that of the Justice Jeevan Reddy committee, which recommended the repeal of the AFSPA. The committee had submitted the report to the government in 2005 but the findings and recommendations are buried as the government has neither taken a call on them nor made them public.

Another panel, the Naresh Chandra committee on security reforms, has recommended that the AFSPA should be watered down, sources said.


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