Another panel to study AFSPA Looking back at 2004

    29-Dec-2021
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Panel formed in the backdrop of the growing demand that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act be withdrawn from the North East particularly from Nagaland. This is fine and could indicate that the Centre has at least taken cognizance of the sentiments of the people, where anyone can be killed on mere suspicion as in the case of the 14 labourers who were mowed down by the security personnel on December 4 in an alleged case of misplaced information at Oting village in Nagaland.  Panel to be formed, but still not clear who would be heading the inquiry team and still not clear whether the panel would primarily engage itself with the killing of the civilians only and not the imposition of the said Act. Time will tell, but it should not be forgotten that this is not the first time that an inquiry commission has been tasked with the job of studying whether the said Army Act should continue or not. Manipur still remembers how the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee was formed in 2004 after the people erupted in protest after the ravaged and bullet riddled body of Thangjam Manorama was discovered on July 11, 2004, one night after she was picked up by Assam Rifles personnel from her own home. That it took the then Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh to personally fly down to Imphal and announce the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee should reflect the intensity of the protest which rode on the nude protest staged by womenfolk in front of Kangla which then housed the Assam Rifles on July 16, 2004.  Manipur or rather Imphal was then the destination of the media, with many journalists touching down here to get a first hand account of the protest that erupted over the bullet riddled body of Th Manorama and the nude protest. It was inside a packed conference room that Dr Manmohan Singh announced the formation of the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee to study whether the Act should be lifted, even going to the extent of opining that a more humane law is needed. A thought which was reflected well by the then Union Home Minister P Chidambaram.
That the final report of the Committee new saw the light of the day is another matter, but it should be clear that there was strong opposition from some quarters to get the Act revoked prompting the then Union Home Minister to remark that the Army had taken a strong stand against any dilution of the law. As Committee comes, it should be clear that the panel assured by the Centre can only recommend and it is up to the Government at New Delhi on whether to act upon it or not. What happens if the report or recommendation of the assured panel never sees the light of day as happened with the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee’s recommendations, though some reports did say that the Committee recommended the repeal of the said Act ? This is where the North East region need to strike a united stand. Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma is reported to have already made it clear that his Government is for the continuation of the said Act, while the Governments of Nagaland and Meghalaya  have already made their stand known against the continued imposition of AFSPA. And if report from a news agency, which was carried by The Sangai Express in its December 28th edition is anything to go by, then the BJP led Government at Imphal is also likely to propose that the Army Act be lifted. Let it be clear to all that in as much as anti-AFSPA voices are raised, there will be others, equally powerful, which will advocate its continuation. This is the reality and one wonders how the Army establishment will respond to the developing situation.