Monday, September 30, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

STF back in barracks
EC bows to pressure from Opposition parties
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

Srinagar, September 29
In a significant move, the Election Commission of India has decided to temporarily restrict the functioning of the Special Operations Group (SOG) and Special Task Force (STF) of the state government. Relenting to the mounting pressure from the opposition parties, which have been alleging that the SOG and STF have been helping the ruling NC during campaigning, the EC directed these forces to remain confined to the respective Police Lines. Operations of the SOG and STF will now be restricted until the third phase of elections at Anantnag and Pulwama concludes on October 1. The EC took the decision following a two-day survey of the valley.

The Chief Electoral Officer, Mr Pramod Jain, confirmed the decision of the EC, stating that the operations of the SOG and STF would remain limited to the Police Lines until the EVMs had been deposited in the respective strong rooms after the completion of the third phase. Mr Jain admitted that the opposition parties had been airing their objection with regard to the role of the SOG and STF during the first and the second phases of elections.

Even while the operations of these wings have been restricted, the EC has issued special guidelines to the state government in case of any emergency where their services would be required to counter militant operations. As informed by CEO, Mr Jain, these guidelines, on procedure, would have to be strictly followed by the state government. The opposition parties, however, fear that the SOG and STF may get back into action on the pretext of fighting militants during polling. An official handout confirmed the application of the ECís decision to south Kashmir only.

The SOG and STF, floated by the ruling NC in the early 1990s to counter militancy, are universally detested in the valley for their crude methods of operation. A large number of extortion, rape, arson, looting and fake encounter complaints against the SOG and STF are pending for investigation. Many cases of human rights violations by these wings have been listed with the Human Rights Front, Kashmir, which has forwarded a majority of these to the Amnesty International.

Seen in this backdrop, the ECís decision has been welcomed, especially when the SOG and STF have been allegedly busy effecting post-second phase arrests of people who abstained from voting. According to the decision taken at a high-level meeting under the chairmanship of the CEC, Mr J.M. Lyngdoh, the SOG and STF have been asked to restrain from moving into the field till the third phase ends. The decision comes long after repeated allegations of the opposition that the SOG and STF have been helping the NC with the transportation of poll material, installation of party flags and pressuring of voters in favour of the ruling government.

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