A preliminary probe by an IG of the CRPF, into an encounter carried out jointly by the Indian Army, Assam Police, CRPF and Sashastra Seema Bal on March 30 this year in Chirang district in Assam, has said that it was staged. In his report, Rajnish Rai, IG, North East Sector, has said that two men, suspected members of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit), were picked up from a house in D-Kalling village, taken to neighbouring Simlaguri village and killed. Weapons were later planted on them. The family with whom the two men were residing at the time of the security operation told this newspaper that they were unarmed when the “soldiers” took them. The government must order a detailed investigation and if the charges are proven, the guilty must be brought to book.
Security agencies, which operate under the protective umbrella of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the Northeast, have been in the dock for rights violations frequently in recent times. Last year, Herojit Singh, a head constable with Manipur Police, told this newspaper that he had shot dead a suspected militant on the orders of his superior officer. Singh had been under suspension for his role in encounter killings. The Justice Santosh Hegde Commission, appointed by the Supreme Court after it was seized of complaints of over 1,500 fake encounter killings in Manipur, had investigated six cases and found all of them to be premeditated murder. It had stated that the security forces routinely transgress the legal bounds for counter-insurgency operations, even as very few of the complaints against the forces are investigated. In April this year, the SC ruled on a petition filed by the Extra Judicial Execution Victims Families Association, a representative platform of people in Manipur whose kin have allegedly been killed by security forces, that “every death caused by the armed forces” should be investigated if there is a complaint or allegation of abuse or misuse of power. It dismissed the government’s attempt to seek blanket immunity for army personnel in anti-insurgency operations, describing the plea as “unsettling and demoralising, particularly in a constitutional democracy like ours”.
Security forces often operate in difficult conditions. That, however, doesn’t give them the licence to work outside the law. Even the AFSPA lays down clear procedures that security personnel need to follow while conducting operations. Besides, the judiciary at various points, judicial commissions and institutions like the National Human Rights Commission have outlined guidelines for security operations. But evidence suggests that these are routinely ignored. This could be because those found guilty of violations are rarely punished; probes instituted against fake encounters are often found to be compromised. As IG Rai has cautioned in his report on the Assam incident, “It indicates a deeper institutional malady in the functioning of the country’s most prestigious security forces. It represents a dangerous deterioration and degradation of institutional processes”. It is a call for immediate correctives.