Changes in the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) — in force in Jammu and Kashmir and some northeastern states — will have to wait “until the army comes on board”.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had promised to consider amendments to AFSPA to make it more “humane”, but the army has found a draft proposal prepared by the home ministry “too drastic”, according to government sources.
“The army needs to be persuaded first before the government moves Parliament,” a source told HT .
The Centre or a state government can notify an area as disturbed under AFSPA and invoke the Act, giving security forces — the army, a central paramilitary force or even the police — wide-ranging powers, often criticised as draconian.
It is in force in parts of Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and J&K now. Manipur protester Irom Sharmila has achieved iconic status with her long-running hungerstrike against the Act.
Two government panels — the Administrative Reforms Commission and the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee — recommended scrapping the Act and amending others laws to give the army the powers it needs to fight insurgents.
Following resistance from the army, the ministry decided to tweak the law rather than push for a complete overhaul, which again has been found unacceptable by the army. “It will mean asking us to fight with our hands tied,” said a senior army functionary, refusing to be identified.
The key change proposed is to remove any explicit reference to the power of a non-commissioned officer, such as a havaldar, to “cause death” if in his opinion it is necessary for maintenance of public order.
The ministry also sought to provide for a grievance redressal mechanism.
The Reddy panel was set up in 2004 to study the law in keeping with the PM’s promise to consider replacing AFSPA “with a more humane law that addresses both the concerns of national security and rights of citizens”.
Lt-Gen (retd) V.R. Raghavan was a member to ensure the army perspective was reflected. A government functionary said there was disappointment at the army’s reluctance “but the final view was it wouldn’t be advisable to ram it down the army’s throat”.