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Govt keen to soften Armed Forces Special Powers Act
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 20
The Central Government is keen to amend the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which will mean reduction in powers for the Army when it operates in anti-militancy operations.

According to official sources, the Home Ministry wants certain modifications to speed up the process of sanctioning prosecution for any “guilty” Army officials and also make it more “humane”. Since 1990, no sanction has been accorded in a total of 38 cases against Armymen in Jammu and Kashmir.

The proposed amendment to the Act has become a contentious issue of sorts between the Union Home Ministry and the Defence Ministry.

The matter has been sent to the Union Cabinet for a decision and comments from the Law and Defence ministries have been sought, sources confirmed. The armed forces have put their foot down and rejected any plan to dilute the Act, saying an upper hand over militants in Jammu and Kashmir or the North East has come about with great effort.

Meanwhile, PTI said that one of the proposed amendments was to include handing over of Army personnel, who allegedly indulge in fake killings, to the local police for prosecution. The agency report claimed that notwithstanding opposition from the Army and the Defence Ministry, the government is “planning to go ahead with certain amendments” in the Act.

The AFSPA became law in 1958 and was extended to Kashmir in 1990 and to Jammu in 2001. There have been persistent pleas to withdraw the Act, seen by many as “draconian”. Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, too, has been seeking amendments in the Act. The Union Home Ministry is also in favour of making the Act more “humane”.

While it is known that a draft note has been in circulation and comments have been sought following the Prime Minister’s assurance in carrying out a thorough review of the Act.

In any case the amendments will have to go through the Cabinet Committee on Security first before the Union Cabinet takes a call.

Curiously, both proponents and opponents of the Act have been citing the encounter in the Machil sector in Kashmir in their favour. Activists and the opposition in Kashmir have been vocal in condemning the allegedly fake encounter on April 30 this year in which three civilians were killed by the Army which described them initially as infiltrators. With state authorities coming up with sufficient evidence to cast doubts on the Army’s version, they have been demanding repeal or withdrawal of the Act.

Defence Ministry sources, however, have been citing the Army’s own internal inquiry and the decision to suspend an Army Major and remove a Colonel from his command as proof of sufficient checks and balances already available under the Act.

The GOC-in-C of the Northern Command Lt Gen B S Jaswal’s comment made to a TV channel that although not everybody follows guidelines given by religious scriptures, while some break them, the defiance or deviation do not call for a condemnation of the religious book, is cited approvingly by officials who oppose any dilution in the Act.





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