Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has suggested that the Centre prepare a “roadmap” to withdraw armed forces for civilian conflict management in the Northeast and replace them with a trained local police.
The removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act -- a law that gives unbridled powers to the military to shoot, arrest or search -- has been a longstanding demand of rights activists but summarily rejected by the Centre on security grounds.
Sarma, the BJP’s pointsman for the Northeast, told Hindustan Times that army personnel have made sacrifices in their line of duty in the region but keeping them engaged in civilian issues for a long period of time was not advisable.
“They main job is to guard borders. They were sent to Northeast under a particular situation and it is time that a roadmap be drawn to gradually withdraw them from the job over the next five years,” he told HT on the sidelines of the India Ideas Conclave in Goa.
Also the head of the North East Democratic Alliance, a BJP-spearheaded alliance of local parties, Sarma said armed forces can help train local people. “Local police should be reformed, trained and equipped to deal with the situation in place of army. The armed forces can help them,” he added.
His remarks come ahead of the assembly elections in Manipur, where the AFSPA is in force.
In July this year, the Supreme Court also expressed its reservation over indefinite deployment of armed forces in the name of restoring normalcy under the AFSPA, saying it symbolized the failure of the civil administration and the armed forces.
Rights activists have alleged 1,528 cases of “extra-judicial killings” in Manipur between 2000 and 2012 by the army.
Manipur-based activist Irom Sharmila ended her 16-year-old hunger strike against the AFSPA in August this year and vowed to fight the next year’s assembly election. The BJP, too, is making a strong pitch to win Manipur, a state neighbouring Assam.