For once the government has not gone on the defensive over the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which bestows sweeping powers on the army to carry out operations in the northeast and J&K.
It has cited the recent attacks by the separatist Ulfa in Assam as reason enough for the legislation enacted in 1958 to stay in force.
Defence Minister AK Antony, who was briefed on the insurgency scenario in the northeast at HQs 3 Corps on Wednesday, reiterated that army personnel had to be provided “special protection” to discharge their duties in a tinderbox scenario “which is not their creation”.
Antony, accompanied by army chief General JJ Singh, said: “The army intervenes only when the civil administration requisitions help when it cannot deal with a volatile situation. Look what has happened in Assam, where the Ulfa attacked the poorest of the poor without any provocation.” The defence minister’s remarks on the AFSPA — often decried as draconian on the ground that it confers “unrestricted powers” on the security forces — assume significance as Manipur goes to the hustings in February and the chorus for repealing the legislation grow shriller.
Antony, however, said the government was not opposed to amending some provisions to give the Act “a human touch”. “We are in touch with the home ministry and the state governments concerned to address such issues.”