North East: Special Powers Act not a solution
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Six decades of insurgency in the north-eastern states, inherited at the time of independence of the country has grown manifold by now. But instead of acknowledging the situation as a failure of political process and lack of effective governance, the Centre continues to believe, as it does with regard to other insurgencies such as the Naxal and Maoist movements, that it is a law and order problem. The centre believes that the deployment of army and para-military forces in these states is merely to assist the law enforcement agencies.to tackle insurgencies. But the deployment of armed forces and their alleged excesses without accountability under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) has led to an alienation of the local populace of the region which warrants emergent steps to stem the tide of growing number of rebellious organizations.
Way back during 1958, the Parliament enacted the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act which was preceded by the promulgation of an ordinance aimed at dealing with the Naga insurgents through lending armed forces' support to the local law enforcement agencies in the state of Assam as it then existed and the then union territory of Manipur. After the carving out of the new states of Arunanchal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura during 1972, the Act was appropriately adopted to apply to all the seven states of the North-East and the enactment came to be christened as Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). This has become a topic of hot debate in recent years on account of the alleged unwarranted use of power by the army and para-military forces under the pretext of fighting the insurgents and terrorists.
The allegedly excessive use of power by the army and para-military organizations, collectively called the security forces, has the sanction of law which operates in a manner which over-stretches the parameters of the Constitution as law and order is a state subject and armed forces have no role in normal situations. Under the AFSPA, initially certain areas are declared 'disturbed areas' under the Disturbed Areas Act by the concerned state and such declaration is then endorsed by the Centre. In areas so declared as 'disturbed', even the non-commissioned officers of the army are empowered under the AFSPA to fire or kill any person indulging in contravention of law or carrying any weapons, if in his opinion, the situation warrants such action.
n view of the alleged excesses committed under the garb of AFSPA, the enactment was challenged in the Supreme Court by the Naga groups under Article 32 of the Constitution during 1982 on the plea of discrimination. The case was finally heard after one and half decades during 1997 by a constitutional bench headed by the then Chief Justice J S Verma and by his Lordship's companion Justices M M Punchhi, S C Aggarwal, A S Anand and S P Bharucha. In their pronouncement on November 27, 1997 in the Writ Petition titled Naga People's Movement of Human Rights etc.etc. v. Union of India & Ors, their Lordships held that the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 was not unconstitutional. The apex court said that the "deployment of armed forces is to enable the civil power in the State to deal with situations affecting the maintenance of public order" and that "the Parliament was competent to enact the Central Act in accordance with its legislative powers as per Entry-2 of List-I, Article 248 read with Entry-97 of List-I and Entry-I of the List-II of the Constitution".
Commenting on the protests by the civil society groups and increasing resentment on the issue of armed forces deployment in the north-east states, the Defence Minister said that "there is a clamour by some civil rights groups for implementation of the Reddy Committee recommen-dations," but added that "the army is strongly opposed to doing away with AFSPA on the ground that its soldiers are engaged in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations and need adequate protection against being dragged to the courts."
Meanwhile, the situation in the north-eastern states simmers with discontent over the issue of the deployment of armed forces and para-military personnel to handle law and order problem which needs to be addressed with effective governance through a correction of the political process and not with unbridled draconian powers in a democratic set-up with a written constitution.
posted by Resistance 7/19/2007 10:08:00 PM,