Shillong: The Meghalaya High Court has directed the central government to enforce the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, (AFSPA) 1958 in the insurgency-ravaged districts of Garo Hills to control the deteriorating law and order situation in the state.
The high court also directed the union home secretary and defence secretary to ensure compliance by placing this order before the central government to consider the use of AFSPA and deployment of armed and para-military forces in the Garo Hills.
It further directed the principal secretary in the PMO to place the order before Prime Minister Narendra Modi for perusal and consideration.
The order of the full bench of Chief Justice Uma Nath Singh, Justice T.N.K. Singh and Justice S.R. Sen, issued late Monday, is significant coming in the wake of the recent kidnapping and killing of an Intelligence Bureau officer Bikash Kumar Singh and businessman Kamal Saha by A'chik Songna An'pachakgipa Kotok militants and abduction of government official Jude Rangku T. Sangma by Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) militants. Sangma was released early Tuesday.
"We have no option but to direct the central government to consider the use of AFSPA in the Garo Hills area and deployment of armed and para-military forces to control the situation in the aid of but certainly not under the command of civil and police authorities till life becomes normal and the incidents of rampant kidnapping and killing are totally stopped," the court noted.
"We are also not oblivious of the fact that with great power comes great responsibility to exercise self-restraint, especially in the exercise of powers under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, but now since the law and order situation in the Garo Hills has deteriorated beyond redemption, we have no option but to issue certain serious directions in order to protect the civil liberties and fundamental rights of the common citizens as well as the public servants," the order stated.
Maintaining that the central government can enforce AFSPA for the purpose of deployment of armed forces in the aid of civil administration in order to restore public order and maintain the law and order, the court said: "Such deployment of armed forces would be only for the purpose of enabling the civil authorities in the state to deal with the situation effectively so that there is a regime of rule of law."
Observing that there was no end to violent incidents perpetrated by Garo National Liberation Army and other militants, including calling bandhs in Garo Hills, the court said: "... the police and civil authorities, despite the best of their efforts, are not able to control the incidents of kidnapping for ransom and killings on non-fulfilment of illegal demands and the native population is totally exposed to the influence of militancy, and the funds allocation by the Central Government has not helped in ameliorating the decline of law and order".
In its 13-page order, the court also quoted data supplied by the Meghalaya Police on the abduction of 87 people -- 25 civilians, 27 businessmen, 25 private sector employees, five government employees and five teachers -- for ransom in different parts of Garo Hills from January to October 31 by Garo militants.
"It is also informed that the majority of Garo population reside in villages and they are basically dependent upon agriculture for their livelihood. Though the population is just about seven lakh, yet they are not feeling secured and they have to live totally exposed to the mercy of insurgents who raise all kinds of illegal demands, including food and shelter," the order said.
Pointing out that even the chief justice and judges of the high court were getting "veiled threats" through anonymous letters, the bench said: "It may not be proper for us to say anything about our security which is, for the present, being looked after by the state.
"Generally, we put all such anonymous letters into shredders but since two of us are to lay our office in January and February, 2016, and third one in March, 2019, one cannot claim to be fully safe and secured."
The court has fixed November 18 as the next date for hearing of the matter.