The recent petition filed by over 300 Armymen in the Supreme Court against what they fear is an attempt to dilute the provisions of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) should be a cause of concern to the government and policymakers. According to reports, among the petitioners are 75 officers, including a brigadier fairly high up in the pecking order.
Such a united move is unparalleled in the history of our Army, an institution widely considered to be relatively free of corruption, prejudice and inefficiency. The Armymen may not have formed an union in order to move the petition, but the fact that over 300 of them across ranks felt the need to do so points to some form of unionisation, something banned in the defence services. The Army Act unequivocally bans all such activities lest they adversely affect discipline, an attribute necessary to run the organisation professionally. The collective petition follows a similar plea filed by the father of an Army major, who approached the SC after an FIR was lodged against his son by the Jammu and Kashmir police for the death of a civilian in army firing in Shopian.
There is no doubt that the controversial AFSPA gives wide powers to the Army and paramilitary forces to kill and maim on the pretext of counter-insurgency without having to be accountable for it. But opponents of the AFSPA must bear in mind that the Army has a robust and effective internal mechanism to deal with any misconduct by its troops.
The 2010 Machil fake encounter is a case in point wherein five Armymen, including a colonel, were given life imprisonment by an Army court of inquiry. The sentences were suspended later. But the larger question here is not the use or misuse of the AFSPA by security forces. The more important point that needs immediate attention is the failure of the government and political parties, that resulted in the outbreak of insurgencies and the subsequent involvement of the Army in order to clean up the mess created by an incompetent civilian administration.