Manipur encounters fake, says SC probe panel

NEW DELHI APRIL 5, 2013[TOI]--- A probe commissioned by the Supreme Court has held security forces guilty of killing seven persons, including a 12-year-old boy, in six fake encounters in Manipur during 2009-10 in what trains the spotlight once again on the misuse of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

Besides the minor, Mohd Azad Khan, a three-person investigation panel blamed security forces for the death of Khumbongmayum Orsonjit Singh, Nameirakpam Gobind Metei and Nameirakpam Nobo Meitei, Elangbam Kiranjit Singh, Chongthan Umakanta and Akoijam Priyobrata.

Shocked by the report, a bench of Justices Aftab Alam and Ranajana Desai said a major portion of the blame lay at the door of the Centre. "This is not the best way to integrate (north-eastern) people. It is the best way to alienate them," the judges added.

Court seeks response on fake encounters

They termed as distressing the contents of the report, compiled by retired Justice Santosh Hegde of the apex court, former CEC J M Lyngdoh and ex-Karnataka DGP Ajay Kumar Singh, and said security forces and police threw caution to the wind while following guidelines in conducting such "operations". They said the security forces have conducted raids and resorted to firing merely on the basis of source information without bothering to cross-check even once the authenticity of the 'source'.

It sought responses from the Centre, Manipur government and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to the Hegde panel's report within five days.

Though allegations of excesses by troops in militancy-hit Manipur have been rampant, this is the first instance that a court-appointed probe has endorsed the charge of "gross violation of human rights" by the security forces operating under the much-disliked shield of AFSPA.

The court lauded the effort of the three-member inquiry committee for meticulously collecting evidence from complainant, witnesses, security forces and police before concluding that "none of these six incidents qualified as a genuine one".

It said, "What we find distressing is that the elaborate guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court, series of guidelines issued by Army headquarters, NHRC and the Manipur government have been confined to the papers. Nothing is followed in practice (by armed forces and police while carrying out the operations)."

The bench said, "The Army authorities have issued a series of dos and don'ts. But, unfortunately none of the guidelines or the dos and don'ts is followed in actual operations. One of the issues before the court is how to ensure the state police and security forces follow the guidelines".

Given the detailed scrutiny done by the apex court in fake encounter killings of Sohrabuddin and Tulsiram Prajapati in Gujarat, both the Union and Manipur government would have lot to answer for the six fake encounters involving the death of seven innocent persons in Manipur.

Last October, the court had entertained two PILs — one on fake encounter killings and another for the withdrawal of AFSPA from Manipur. In January, 2013, the court had appointed the three-member panel headed by Justice Hegde to inquire into the encounter deaths.

The PIL by NGOs — Extra-judicial Execution Victims Families' Association of Manipur through Neena N and Human Rights Alert through Babloo Loitongbam — alleged apathy on the Centre and Manipur government's part to bring to book the guilty among armed forces and state police, which allegedly were responsible for 1,528 extra-judicial killings in last 30 years.

The petition gave details of each of the 1,528 people killed in fake encounters since 1979. It said though the apex court upheld the constitutional validity of AFSPA 15 years ago, it had issued certain dos and don'ts to the security forces. But, these guidelines were seldom followed, it alleged.

On October 19, 2012, the apex court had also issued notices to the Centre and Ibobi Singh government on another PIL by former director of Manipur Health Services, Th. Suresh Singh, seeking withdrawal of AFSPA from the state.

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