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Repeal Armed Forces Act: official panel
New Delhi: On Friday, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil declined to make public the report of a high-level official panel tasked with reviewing the provisions of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA).
He had good reasons.
The 147-page report of the Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy Committee — a copy of which is now with The Hindu — unambiguously recommends the repeal of the controversial law against which people in Manipur and elsewhere in the North-East have been agitating for several years.
“The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, should be repealed,” it notes in its recommendations. “The Act is too sketchy, too bald and quite inadequate in several particulars”.
The report adds that the impression gathered by the Committee during the course of its work is that “the Act, for whatever reason, has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness.”
Acknowledging that the Supreme Court had upheld the constitutional validity of the Act, the Committee said that judgment “is not an endorsement of the desirability or advisability of the Act.”
The apex court may have endorsed the competence of the legislature to enact the law. But “the Court does not — it is not supposed to — pronounce upon the wisdom or the necessity of such an enactment.”
On this point, the Jeevan Reddy Committee’s findings are clear: “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).”
The other members of the Committee — set up by the Prime Minister in November 2004 — are Lt. Gen (Retd.) V.R. Raghavan, P.P. Shrivastava, a former special secretary in the Union Home Ministry, Dr. S.B. Nakade, a former Vice-Chancellor of the Marathwada University, and senior journalist Sanjoy Hazarika.
The panel turned in its report in June 2005 but the Manmohan Singh Government has yet to officially accept or reject its findings.
Rejecting the principal submission made by the armed forces in favour of continuation of the AFSPA, the Committee pointed out that protection from legal proceedings against soldiers acting in good faith already exists in Section 49 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (ULP Act).
It also noted that “while providing protection against civil or criminal proceedings in respect of the acts and deeds done by [the armed] forces while carrying out the duties entrusted to them, it is equally necessary to ensure that where they knowingly abuse or misuse their powers, they must be held accountable therefore and must be dealt with according to the law applicable to them.”
Accordingly, the Committee recommends amending the ULP Act to incorporate measures that would regulate the already permissible conduct of armed forces personnel in areas where they are deployed to fight terrorist activities and provide protection to ordinary citizens against possible abuse.