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Rajnath rules out act repeal - Statement dashes Northeast hopes

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  • Published 23.11.14

New Delhi, Nov. 22: Relaxation in the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act is not imminent, Union home minister Rajnath Singh said here today.

Singh’s statement comes a day after vice-president Hamid Ansari nudged the government on the alleged “misuse” of the act.

The home minister said although there was a perceptible change in the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, the government would wait before considering any relaxation in AFSPA.

“We want to normalise the situation in Jammu and Kashmir like in any other state but for now there is no decision to withdraw the AFSPA. We will see in the future,” he said while answering a question at a conference here.

Singh’s answer is an iteration of the Narendra Modi government’s hardline stand on AFSPA. Earlier, former defence minister Arun Jaitley had said that the government endorsed the army’s view on AFSPA. The army is stridently opposed to even a relaxation — leave alone abrogation — of the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act of 1990.

Since the Modi government took over in May this year, hopes for AFSPA to be abrogated or even relaxed have been dashed.

The Northeast, especially Manipur, has been demanding repeal of the act that gives the army sweeping powers even to kill on suspicion. Manipur’s rights crusader Irom Sharmila has been on a hunger strike since November 2000, seeking repeal of the act.

Former home minister P. Chidambaram had openly endorsed reworking the act, but the defence ministry during the UPA administration had toed the army line.

While the NDA government appears to have a consensus on not tinkering with the act, a nudge came from Ansari yesterday.

Delivering the eighth V.M. Tarkunde Memorial Lecture, the vice-president remarked that in today’s context the most concerning aspect was the conduct of the state, resulting in violation or denial of rights of citizens.

“Serious complaints are frequently made about the misuse of laws like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, the Disturbed Areas Act or the Public Safety Act,” the vice-president said. “This reflects poorly on the state and its agents,” remarked Ansari.

A Supreme Court-appointed commission, headed by Justice Santosh Hegde, had last year noted after investigating six cases of AFSPA misuse in Manipur that the continuous use of the act evidently had little or no effect in Manipur.

“On the other hand, the six cases, which have been shown to be not real encounters (fake encounters), are egregious examples of the AFSPA’s gross abuse,” the commission noted.

Singh’s statement in context with the AFSPA, however, did not include any concerns on alleged human rights violations either in Jammu and Kashmir or in the Northeast.

The Th. Manorama case of 2004 in Manipur, among scores of other cases, tested the draconian nature of the 1958 act that was specifically framed for the Northeast. In the backlash and opposition that followed, the government had to constitute the Justice Jeevan Reddy committee to look into the continuation of AFSPA.

Not made public till now, the Reddy committee report stated that the act needed to be reworked and more areas in Manipur should be de-notified from its jurisdiction. The Hegde commission agreed with the Reddy committee’s report, which said that AFSPA had become “a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness”.