The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a petition filed by Army officials against the court monitored CBI probe into the extra judicial killings in Manipur.
According to Bar and Bench, the 350 petitioners contended that they were being “persecuted” in the name of investigation. The probe carried out by the CBI and the police demoralises the Security Forces, it was contended.
When the hearing began, the Centre, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, backed the petition. Mehta said that the fact that over 350 army officials have approached the Court warrants an intervention.
Justice UU Lalit, who was on the Bench along with Justice Madan Lokur, said that whether an official has to be tried under an Army Court or another Court can be decided only post investigation.
“There are some offences which are typically Army offences which are tried only by an Army Court. Then there are different offences… But that will be decided only after a charge sheet is filed. We asked the Attorney General in the past if any action was being taken. But, if there is no action taken under Army Act, then can be no contemplation that no action can be taken at all. Therefore, investigation must go on,” he said said.
Aishwarya Bhati, who represented the petitioners, responded that while the petitioners were not opposed to an investigation, it must take place only after prior sanction as required under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), 1958.
“Army Act and AFSPA will have to be seen differently. Army Act applies throughout the country but AFSPA is applicable only in those areas that are designated as disturbed“, Bhati said.
Justice Lalit agreed with Bhati, but pointed out that only those acts that are enumerated under the provisions of AFSPA will be given protection under the Act, and not other actions done by the soldiers.
Bhati argued that a situation of proxy war exists in disturbed areas such as Manipur and the security forces face imminent danger in these conditions.
Justice Lalit reminded the petitioners that the Court has chosen only those cases that were found prima facie to be extra judicial in nature by the Manipur High Court, the Commission of Inquiry, or the Justice Hegde Commission.
“We are not giving a clean chit to either side. But, if there is loss of life, even if one person has lost his life, shouldn’t there be an inquiry?” Justice Lalit asked.
The Court dismissed the petition at this point. However, Mehta rose to make some submissions and pressed for the continuation of a debate on this issue.
Mehta said that the value of human life is not disputed, but if over 350 Army men have approached the Court, then it is indicative of a need to develop a mechanism to address this issue.
“It has a demoralising effect on the security forces of the Country and our country cannot afford demoralised security personnel“, Mehta said.
Justice Lalit told Mehta that the Centre had the liberty to develop an internal mechanism to address the issue, and did not require the Court’s intervention.