INDIA: AFSPA should not be enforced in Manipur to support organised lawlessness benefiting illegal drug and weapon smuggling cartels

“AFSPA was imposed after declaring the state a disturbed area. You mean to say that in 35 years of Army presence in the state, the situation has not improved to remove the disturbed area tag from the state? Has nothing changed on the law and order front for the last three decades?” The Supreme Court of India asked this question to the government yesterday while hearing a writ petition filed by Extra-judicial Execution Victims Families Association of Manipur and former director of Manipur Health Services, Mr. Suresh Singh.

The petitioners has sought the writ of the Court to withdraw the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) alleging that the enforcement of AFSPA has not contributed to peace-building in Manipur. The petitioners allege that on the contrary, the enforcement of AFSPA in Manipur has resulted in extrajudicial executions and torture of persons, committed by the state agencies with impunity. Independent commissions constituted by the Court and the government confirms the position of the petitioners.

The Government of Manipur on 1 December 2015 has extended the operation of AFSPA in Manipur for a further period of one year. The government notification, issued after the state cabinet’s approval, mentions that the law will be enforced across the state, except for six state assembly constituencies within Imphal district.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has repeatedly called upon the Government of India as well as the Government of Manipur to consider withdrawing AFSPA in Manipur. Many state governments in India decided to withdraw the law from its operation, after having convinced that the enforcement of this law has in fact contributed to the creation of a culture of fear and uncertainty, and is therefore counterproductive to peace-building efforts.

The AHRC is of the opinion that the Supreme Court of India has been presented with adequate supporting evidence to prove that the AFSPA has not in any way contributed to building peace in Manipur. The Court has, by way of the report filed by an independent commission appointed by the Court, before it, evidence showing that AFSPA has been misused in Manipur. In yesterday’s hearing the Court has expressed its concern.

The court said: “AFSPA was supposed to be a temporary measure. But it has been there for the last 35 years. Two generations have grown up under the presence of Army. It was supposed to only aid the democratic government in tackling law and order situation created by insurgent groups.” Expressing concern over the prevailing culture of impunity in the state, the court also said: “One can discount one or two aberrations in the operations carried out in insurgency affected areas, but not in 70-odd cases. In all these cases, the complaint of the commoners or victims’ families had not been converted into FIRs.”

Uncontrollable insurgent activity in Manipur is the direct result of a failed state administration. Militancy also benefits from the poor management of the international border between India and Burma.

The State Government of Manipur is one of the most corrupt state administrations in India. In fact the incumbent Chief Minister and several of his cabinet members, as well as senior bureaucrats are involved in corruption scandals amounting to huge sums of money. So much so, the Chief Minister of Manipur is known as “Mr. Ten Per Cent”, suggesting the standard rate of bribe the Chief Minister demands for sealing all government contracts.

Recruitment to government services, more specifically to the state police is made after collecting large sums of money as bribe. The AHRC is informed that the prevailing rate of bribe to secure the position of a police constable is around one million Indian Rupees and that to the post of a Sub-Inspector is 15 million Rupees.

It is not uncommon for police officers and politicians in Manipur to maintain direct and illegal contact with militant groups in Manipur. The AHRC has documented cases where local police officers, other government officers, and politicians sharing illegal profits obtained from the black-marketing of essential commodities in the state. Armed militant groups often snatch at distribution points or from the road, food grains and other essential commodes like kerosene, and arrange these goods to be sold in the black-market. A share of the sale proceeds is then split between the militant group that organises the heist, government officers, and local politicians.

Militant groups in Manipur also run extortion syndicates, right under the nose of the state police. It is a common sight in the state where militant groups are seen operating “check-posts” on public roads to collect illegal toll from drivers. Police officers openly share the ransom collected by the militant groups at these “toll booths”.

Officers of the state police and state government officers also collude with underground militant groups in drug trafficking that is rife in the state. Pores border between India and Burma in Manipur is used for this trade. Equally strong cartels flourish in the state that brings illegally logged timber from Burma and small arms manufactured in China into India through Burma. In all these illegal businesses state officers, politicians, and militant groups exchange information and share profit. Of the victims of extrajudicial executions in Manipur, many are are those who have fallen foul with these cartels, or are persons shot dead after illegal raids conducted by the armed forces stationed in the state at the behest of the state police.

This culture of organised lawlessness has contributed immensely to nurturing armed militancy in Manipur, for which it is the incumbent government in Manipur to be blamed. The enforcement of AFSPA has only been used so far to terrorise the local population, which has lost confidence in their government. Only corrupt state officers, politicians and the omnipresent and armed militant groups of Manipur will benefit from the impunity provided by the AFSPA.