However, the UPA government’s Ministry of Home Affairs seems to be showing signs of a mid-way shift, or so it seems, on the crucial issue of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, with the change at the helm from P Chidambaram to Sushil Kumar Shinde.
Recently, it summarily rejected a recommendation of the Justice Verma panel — set up to look into changes in law to tackle crimes against women — that the AFSPA be amended to remove a provision that made it mandatory for a competent authority to give sanction before a criminal case could be lodged against a member of the armed forces in conflict areas like J&K. This gives the impression that the Home Ministry’s view on the future of AFSPA might have changed.
Chidambaram and I&B Minister Manish Tewari later tried to play down the rejection, maintaining that issues like AFSPA were not incorporated in the ordinance brought in by the government following the Verma panel’s report “because of divergence of opinion”. As home minister, Chidambaram had been sympathetic to the demand by J&K and human rights activists that AFSPA should be partially revoked or amended, if not completely lifted from militancy- and insurgency-hit states. Under him, the Home Ministry had also recommended three amendments to the law, which are still in a discussion stage due to serious differences between it and the Defence Ministry.
In its recommendations, the Verma panel had suggested bringing sexual violence against women by uniformed men under the purview of ordinary criminal laws and appointment of special commissioners for safety of women in conflict areas. The committee had also suggested introducing a “breach of command responsibility”, aimed at making a senior officer liable to a jail term of at least seven years if his/her subordinate commits rape while he does nothing to prevent it.
The decision not to have this in the ordinance is certain to give rise to questions on whether the Home Ministry has changed its stance on the future of AFSPA. Also worth asking is whether it is finally on the same page as the Defence Ministry on this important issue?
Maneesh is a senior assistant editor based in Delhi