ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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'Mockery' of Democratic Process

The Supreme Court deals a blow to immunity enjoyed by security personnel under AFSPA.

In 2013, in the course of hearing a petition filed by the Extrajudicial Execution Victims’ Families Association and Human Rights Alert, the Supreme Court had asked the Manipur government whether there was “a war going on” in the state. At the heart of this petition which demands an inquiry into the 1,528 cases of alleged fake encounters over the last 20 years by security forces and the state police is the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), 1958. The AFSPA, which was enacted ostensibly to tackle insurgency in the North East (with a modified version for Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) enacted in 1990), has been a bitterly contentious law. While the government and the Army argue that its draconian provisions are needed to deal with extremist and secessionist violence, the people of the areas and states where it is imposed are clear that it results in military personnel enjoying total impunity and non-accountability for their acts. In an interim ruling in the same case the Court has made significant statements about the deployment of the act and what it means to the “democratic process” while also questioning the arbitrary definition of an “insurgent.”

More importantly, while the Court’s interim ruling has been welcomed by those opposed to AFSPA, what it will mean at the ground level is a matter of speculation. Will the legal implications it has for the North East and the other areas where it is implemented in a largely similar form (notably parts of J&K) have a political impact too? In 1997, the Supreme Court clubbed a number of petitions challenging AFSPA’s constitutional validity, upheld its validity but said the Army should follow the dos and don’ts issued by the military authorities. Going by the experience since then, these have not been followed. In 2005, the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee recommended repeal of the act while adding that some of its provisions be incorporated in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 2004. This report has not been officially made public, though it has been leaked.

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