Indian Home Affairs Ministry recommends against repealing Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act

India human rightsIn a report submitted to the Cabinet Committee of Security, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Ministry said that the report of the Justice B P Jeevan Reddy committee, which recommended repeal of the law terming it as “a symbol of oppression” should be rejected.

In view of a hostile environment prevailing in the north-eastern states  of India due to violence  by armed militant groups, the Indian Government gave legal and logistic protection to the Armed Forces personnel posted on duty. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) accordingly came to be enacted and amended subsequently.

The Jeevan Reddy committee was set up in 2004, in the wake of intense agitation in Manipur following killing of a woman, Thangjam Manorama, while in the custody of Assam Rifles and the indefinite fast undertaken by activist Irom Sharmila. The five-member committee, headed by Justice Jeevan Reddy, a former Supreme Court judge, had submitted its report on June 6, 2005. The 147-page report recommends: “The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, should be repealed.”

However The Union Ministry of Home Affairs has recommended against repealing the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). In a report submitted to the Cabinet Committee of Security, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the ministry said the report of the Justice BP Jeevan Reddy committee, which recommended repeal of the law terming it as “a symbol of oppression” should be rejected.In view of a hostile environment prevailing in the north-eastern states  of India due to violence perpetrated by armed militant groups, the Indian Government had thought it fit to give legal and logistic protection to the Armed Forces personnel posted on duty there so as to enable them to operate with required thrust and drive. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) accordingly came to be enacted and amended subsequently.

“We have recommended to the Union Cabinet to reject the report of Justice Jeevan Reddy committee,” an official said. The Defence Ministry is also opposed to any dilution of the Act and has said the forces operating in insurgency-prone areas are protected by the AFSPA from “harassment”.

The Jeevan Reddy Commission

In 2004, in the wake of intense agitation that was launched by several civil society groups following the death of Thangjam Manorama, while in the custody of the Assam Rifles and the indefinite fast undertaken by Irom Sharmila, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil visited Manipur and reviewed the situation with the concerned state authorities. In the same year, Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh assured activists that the central government would consider their demand sympathetically.

The central government accordingly set up a five-member committee under the Chairmanship of Justice B P Jeevan Reddy, former judge of the Supreme Court. The panel was given the mandate of “review[ing] the provisions of AFSPA and advis[ing] the Government of India whether

(a) to amend the provisions of the Act to bring them in consonance with the obligations of the government towards protection of human rights;

(b) or to replace the Act by a more humane Act.

The Reddy committee submitted its recommendations on June 6, 2005. However, the government failed to take any concrete action on the recommendations even after almost a year and a half. The then Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee had rejected the withdrawal or significant dilution of the Act on the grounds that “it is not possible for the armed forces to function” in “disturbed areas” without such powers.

The 147-page report recommends, “The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, should be repealed.” During the course of its work, the committee members met several individuals, organisations, parties, institutions and NGOs, which resulted in the report stating that “the Act, for whatever reason, has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high handedness.” The Act is too sketchy, too bald, and quite inadequate in several particulars,” the committee explains, adding that “for whatever reason” it has become in the Northeast “a symbol of oppression, an object of hate, and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness.” The report stated that “It is highly desirable and advisable to repeal the Act altogether, without of course, losing sight of the overwhelming desire of an overwhelming majority of the [North East] region that the Army should remain (though the Act should go).”

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