Home Minister P Chidambaram on Thursday said he was "disappointed" at the delay in amending the Armed Forces Special Powers Act to give the law — that human rights activists call "draconian" — a humane face.
Manipur's Irom Sharmila, who hasn't had a morsel for over 10 years to demand repeal of the AFSPA, had recently spoken of her "disappointment" at the central government not keeping its promise to replace the law more than five years ago.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had set up Justice Jeevan Reddy panel to study the law. A year after he received the report, Singh promised to consider changes to make the law "more humane, giving due regard to the protection of basic human rights"."I am disappointed too," Chidambaram said, reacting to Sharmila's recent remarks in context of social activist Anna Hazare's fast in Delhi, which prompted the government to walk an extra mile.
Chidambaram had backed changes to AFSPA, which could help end Sharmila's fast. But the defence ministry insisted that the legal shield, which gives its jawans powers to shoot without permission and fear of prosecution, was needed to operate in large parts of the Northeast.
The home minister suggested that he hadn't given up and was still trying to build the elusive consensus with the defence establishment. "I have not succeeded so far... We are trying. You know we have tried in the past," he said. "One needs to build a consensus within the government before amendments can be brought before Parliament".
Despite the defence ministry's resistance, the home ministry had last year advised the J&K government to withdraw application of the Disturbed Areas Act, which was necessary to invoke AFSPA. However, Manipur is not impressed with Chidambaram's plans to have a fresh look at the issue. "There is nothing new in the statement," said Khaidem Mani, a human rights activist in Imphal. "People don't want amendments but the repeal of the Act."
"Amendment is like old wine in new bottle. We want the Act to go," said Irom Singhajit, Sharmila's elder brother.
(Inputs from HTC, Imphal)