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The Supreme Court’s recent observations on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act or AFSPA are significant for the people of Manipur in particular and the Northeast in general.The court questioned the government’s intention in continued deployment of security forces protected by AFSPA in Manipur on the plea that normalcy was yet to be restored and there was a war like situation.

In doing so, the apex Court has almost indicatedthat enough is enough and it is time for the AFSPA to go from Manipur.

The apex court also made it clear that theimmunity enjoyed by the armed forces under AFSPA needs to bear judicial scrutiny and if found guilty of conducting “fake encounters” or “extra-judicial killings”, criminal courts can prosecute the personnel involved.

The court also ordered investigations into over 1,500 alleged “fake encounters” in Manipur that have taken place over the last 20 years. This is also significant as the apex court has taken the unprecedented initiative to determine whether the killings were really warranted to contain terrorism.

AFSPA has been in place from 1958 andunder challenge for a long time. Irom Chanu Sharmila, a political activist and poet from Manipur has been on a hunger strike against AFSPA since November 2000.The trigger for her was the gunning down of 10 civilians, waiting at a bus stop in the Malom town of Manipur, byjawans of the Assam Rifles. Sharmila has been arrested off and on, on charges of attempting to commit suicide.

The Supreme did a welcome U-turn in this verdict as compared to the one in Naga People’s Movement of Human Rights vs Union of India case (1998), wherein it had favoured the imposition of AFSPA. The Act was challenged on the ground that it was being misused, resulting in large-scale human rights violations.

The allegations that human rights violations have taken place under AFSPA can’t be wished away. The Santosh Hedge Commission appointed by the Supreme Court in 2013 to thoroughly probe the first six cases of killings in Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association (EEVFAM) & Anr vs Union of India & Anr found that all of them were indeed fake-encounters.

Human rights activist Irom Sharmila speaks to the media outside a prision hospital,in imphal where doctors had force-fed her.jpg
Irom Sharmila speaks to the media outside a prison hospital, in Imphal in August 2014, where doctors had force-fed her

Section 3 of the Act provides for the notification of any area in a state or union territory as a “disturbed area”. The justification given for this in a 1972 bill to amend the Act was that under Article 355, the Union government was responsible for protecting every state from internal disturbances.

Section 4 of the Act gives various powers to members of the armed forcessuch as the power to fire on someone even to the extent of causing death ifhe considers it necessary to do so in the course of maintaining public order. Personsacting under the Act also have protection from prosecution. They can be prosecuted only with permission from the government.

In the earlier case the apex court had held that Section 3 does not confer arbitrary powers to the centre to declare an area as disturbed.Ithad observed that there were safeguards against the powers given to the armed forces personnel under Sections 4 and 5 as they were required to use minimal force.A person taken into custody was to be handed over to the nearest police station to be produced before a magistrate within 24 hours.

The Supreme Court ruling in the present case filed by the Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association (EEVFAM) should bring some relief to the people of Manipur.

All Photos: UNI

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