A day after a court martial recommended life sentences for five Army men in the Machil fake encounter case, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram Thursday asked the BJP government to bring a Bill to amend the contentious Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in the Winter session of Parliament. He said the AFSPA was an “obnoxious law” which allows the men in uniform to “act with impunity”.
Chidambaram said that as Home Minister in 2010, he “initiated the process of repealing, or at least amending AFSPA”, but found stiff resistance from the Armed forces and the Defence Ministry. “It remains an unfinished business,” he said. He welcomed the decision of the court martial recommending life sentence to the Army personnel found guilty of killing three Kashmiris in Machil in 2010.
Chidambaram, while he was a minister in the UPA II government, had been of the view that AFSPA should be made a more “humanitarian” law. He had often rued the fact that there was no consensus on the issue and the Home Ministry, Defence Ministry and Armed forces were not on the same page.
Speaking of Machil incident, he said, “I am afraid it will not be the last case of an alleged encounter involving personnel of the Army or the Central Armed Police Forces unless we address the underlying cause.”
“Just a few days ago, there was the horrific incident in Budgam. Just yesterday, the inquiry report on the torture and murder of a young girl, Thangjam Manorama, in Manipur in 2004 was made public. Other cases such as Pathribal (2000), Ganderbal (2006), Kupwara (2005, 2006) and Bomai (2009) have gone without investigation or punishment,” he noted.
“The underlying cause is the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 and a similar law in force in Jammu & Kashmir. AFSPA is an obnoxious law that has no place in a modern, civilised country. It purports to incorporate the principle of immunity against prosecution without previous sanction. In reality, it allows the Armed Forces and the CAPFs to act with impunity,” he said.
Recounting the initiative the Home Ministry had taken in 2010, he said “amendments were proposed to Section 4(a) which allows the use of force ‘even to the causing of death’. Amendments were also proposed to the sections that permitted search or arrest without warrant in all circumstances. The draft amendments were stoutly resisted by the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence”.
Arguing that there was a need to amend criminal and security laws and bring them in conformity with globally accepted standards of human rights, he said “we must make a beginning with AFSPA” and asked the government, “especially the Home Minister and the Defence Minister to bring a Bill to amend AFSPA in the Winter session of Parliament”.
What he said earlier
“The Army has taken a strong stand against any dilution of the AFSPA. We can’t move forward because there is no consensus. The present and former Army Chiefs have taken a strong position that the Act should not be amended… They also do not want the government notification (of bringing areas under the AFSPA) to be taken back. How does the government move forward to make the AFSPA a more humanitarian law?”
“There is no change in the position. MHA’s position is that the Act must be amended and we have proposed three amendments to the Act which is under consideration of the Cabinet Committee on Security.”
“I am trying to revisit AFSPA but as you know, one needs to build a consensus within the government before amendments can be brought before Parliament… We are trying. You know we have tried in the past.”