A high-level panel has recommended dilution of a law that gives special powers to the armed forces at a time Manipur crusader Irom Sharmila has drawn worldwide attention and the decree has failed to resolve militancy, sources said.
The Naresh Chandra committee on security reforms has advised against “continuous promulgation” of the act in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast, the sources said. The report was filed last year but the recommendations have not been made public yet.
If harm befalls Sharmila, who has been fasting for 12 years for the abolition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, India’s reputation will suffer internationally, the sources quoted the committee as telling the government. “The committee has said that if anything happens to her, it will be a blot on Indian democracy,” a source said.
On Tuesday, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah cited Sharmila’s crusade, struggling to beat back tears while discussing death of a postgraduate student in Kashmir in alleged army firing.
The dilution of the act has been recommended in separate chapters on Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast in the report that was submitted to the government in July 2012 after a year of work. The report may be made public this year “after editing,” the source added.
The sources said the committee has contended that a democracy like India cannot grant its security forces the right to kill.
Section 4 (a) of the AFSPA grants security forces liberty to “fire upon or otherwise use force, even causing of death,” at anyone they feel is violating the law. Section 6 of the act then grants immunity to the army personnel who may have caused the death of a citizen. It was under cover of such immunity that Th. Manorama was raped and killed allegedly by Assam Rifles personnel in 2004. The case is pending in court.
To remove arbitrariness in army action, the Naresh Chandra committee has suggested that the words “causing of death” should be removed from the act. Section 6 may also be amended if the committee’s recommendations are accepted.
“How can the state that is responsible for protection of citizens be allowed to kill?” asked an official.
The “entire government has come around to this point of view”, it is believed, but the army is not yielding.
The committee was mandated in 2011 to recommend reforms on all security aspects, including nuclear. Besides former cabinet secretary Naresh Chandra, the committee included retired air chief marshal S. Krishnaswamy, retired general V.R. Raghavan and former Department of Atomic Energy chief Anil Kakodkar.
The recommendations have assumed significance also because of India pushing for a bigger role at the UN. Another committee headed by Justice Jeevan Reddy had also recommended in 2005 that the act be repealed.
In the Northeast, the law has been imposed for years in Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and in parts of Tripura, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh. Yet, militancy continues.
The committee has, therefore, recommended that the act should not be “continuously promulgated”.
The panel felt that after decades of unresolved militancy, the act’s continuous promulgation could not be justified either in Jammu and Kashmir or in the Northeast.
If the committee’s suggestions are accepted, the act may not be extended beyond two years if the situation is said to have improved. “If there is no improvement, then the law is ineffective,” said an official.