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Sunday, 1 January 2012

‘Top officers at fault, not AFSPA’



‘Top officers at fault, not AFSPA’

30 December 2011
THE SATURDAY INTERVIEW
The former director-general of Border Security Force, Mr EN Rammohan, is known for his simplicity and strictness. The 70-year-old former IPS officer of Assam-Meghalaya cadre was perhaps the only high-ranking officer who preferred to stay in the officers’ hostel rather than the sprawling bungalow allotted to him as the director-general. Besides heading the country’s leading paramilitary force, Mr Rammohan was also inspector-general (operations) in Kashmir and the North-east and led several operations in Maoist-affected areas. After 75 CRPF personnel were massacred by Left-wing extremists in Dantewada in Chhattisgarh, last year, Mr Rammohan was asked to head a high-level committee to look into the failure of security forces in Dantewada. In an interview to VIJAY THAKUR, he spoke on the increasing demand for doing away with enforcement of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in some parts of Jammu and Kashmir.

The demand for ending enforcement of the AFSPA in parts of the Kashmir Valley is getting strident. Security forces, however, claim that withdrawing the Act would hamper their operations in the Valley. How do you see it?
There is nothing wrong with the Act. People first need to understand what is there in AFSPA. The law only gives powers to security forces to carry out search operations without warrants in disturbed areas that otherwise rest with police. In case an area is infested with militants ~ whether it is in Kashmir or in the North-east ~ security forces need to have powers to search without warrants if the need arises. In normal circumstances, the power of search operations rests with police. Without AFSPA, Army or paramilitary forces cannot conduct searches without the help of local police. The AFSPA empowers them to conduct search operations in disturbed areas. Secondly, as per the Act, the Central government has to give permission for prosecution when charge-sheets are filed against security officers accused of committing excesses while discharging their duties.

But the general impression is that AFSPA is a draconian law and gives unlimited powers to security forces which encourage them to commit excesses and misuse AFSPA.
The problem is not with AFSPA but with the brass. AFSPA is required in disturbed areas where police cannot handle the problem. If AFSPA is being misused, it is for the top officers to check that. I will explain how AFSPA is being misused. Say, during an operation, militants attack security forces and four security men die. The angry security personnel then cordon off a nearby village, search it by invoking AFSPA, but upon not finding any militant holed up there, pick up a few innocent villagers and kill them in a cold-blooded manner by way of retaliation.
This is what is happening in some cases in the North-east and in Kashmir. But AFSPA does not give any one the authority to kill innocent people in cold blood. It is a crime and all those who commit such crimes should be booked under the relevant Sections of the Indian Penal Code.

You mean more than AFSPA, it is security personnel who are at fault?
No, the problem is with senior leadership. The question is, why is action not taken against security personnel accused of committing atrocities? What were senior commanders doing when the crimes had been committed? Some senior officers claim that if action is taken against security personnel, it would affect the morale of the force. But they are wrong, any breach brings dishonour to the uniform. No criminal act should be defended or concealed by the leadership.
I have served in all insurgency-prone areas. During my tenure, not a single infraction was reported because I had categorically told my boys that I will register a murder case against them if an innocent person is killed during any operation. So the problem lies with the top officers, they have to send the right message down the line. Unfortunately, this is not happening. In some cases, the BSF, the CRPF, the Assam Rifles or the Army defended criminal acts committed by their men.

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mr Omar Abdullah is demanding the withdrawal of AFSPA from areas that are peaceful…
The Jammu and Kashmir chief minister is playing pure politics. He wants to divert public attention from other controversial issues relating to his party’s internal goings-on. What he wants is the Disturbed Areas Act to be withdrawn when there is no militant operation in cities. The situation in the Valley is different. The problem is that the Army has its headquarters in Badami Bagh. Thousands of Army officers are staying in the area and there is a daily movement from the headquarters to the disturbed areas where they are stationed. This is routine and security forces cannot take help of local police during such movements. They have to protect their convoys themselves in case of a militant attack. AFSPA is needed so that they can protect themselves from a militant attack and to carry out search and seizure operations whenever the need arises. Security forces need to have powers to react immediately.

Even the Cabinet Committee on Security has decided to withdraw the Disturbed Areas Act in a phased manner from some parts of the Valley. What the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister is doing is simply acting on the decision of the CCS…
I don’t have any comments on the CCS decision. The committee should have taken into consideration the ground situation before taking any decision. The need of the hour is to stop cold-blooded murders by security forces in the name of AFSPA. Strict action should be taken against security forces misusing their powers and giving a bad name to the uniform. I remember when I was posted in the North-east, one day, the chief minister of Assam asked me to apprehend a dreaded Ulfa militant and kill him. I categorically refused and said: “Sir, if he is cornered and if he fires at us, we will fire back… either he is killed or we are… But if he surrenders, and lays down arms, we will arrest him. It is not in my book to kill an unarmed person.” The CM was very angry, but I made my point clear. I will not be a party to such murders. Many mistakes have been committed. Think how innocent people had been killed by Assam Rifles personnel at Malom in Manipur valley and the murder of innocent villagers in Chattisinghpora and by Indian Army jawans after LeT militants killed 25 innocent Sikhs. This gives a bad impression about AFSPA. All of this cannot be laid at the door of the Act. Had timely punitive action been taken by authorities in Malom or in Chattisinghpora, people’s perception would have been different. Top officers of security forces need to understand that the morale of the forces cannot be reinforced by protecting them from deserved punitive action.