Congress opposes additional powers to AR but remains silent on ambush of jawans

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In an extraordinary move, Union Home Ministry has empowered an officer of the rank corresponding to that of the lowest rank of members of the Assam Rifles (AR) under the Code of Criminal Procedure, to arrest anyone and search a place without warrant in the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland, and Mizoram.

The opposition Congress on February 22, 2019 moved an adjournment motion in the Assam Assembly over the Centre’s move to bestow additional powers on the Assam Rifles, and resorted to a walkout when the Speaker disallowed it on procedural grounds.

According to Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Debabrata Saikia, the party condemned and strongly opposed the Central government’s notification giving the force power to arrest people and search premises without any warrant in Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, and termed the move as manifestation of an undeclared Emergency, especially in the Northeast.

It may be mentioned that the notification was necessitated amid rising unrest in the Northeast. On various occasions, the AR personnel were targeted through ambush, restricting the movement of the force. Now, the personnel will exercise these powers and discharge their duties under sub-section(1) of section 41, sections 47, 48, 49, 51, 53, 54, 149, 150, 151 and 152 of the CrPC within the local limits of the area within the border districts of the five mentioned states.

Saikia stated that the said notification negates the right to freedom of movement guaranteed to citizens by the Constitution of India and hence poses a threat to democracy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had in his Independence Day speech last year promised to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from the northeastern states. Also during a pre-election rally in Imphal, Modi had promised to withdraw the controversial AFSPA if the BJP formed the government at the Centre, hence the notification has exposed his own duplicity by resorting to the undemocratic tactics by giving powers arbitrarily to the Assam Rifles, instead of keeping his word on the AFSPA.

The Leader of the Opposition pointed out that the Assam Rifles has a dodgy record in upholding human rights and added that there is a strong possibility of this new step hampering integration of the Northeast with India’s mainstream.

It may be pointed out that four North East states – Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur, share 1,643-km border with Myanmar. The Assam Rifles personnel are part of the patrolling forces, who have been time and again being attacked by the militants; they are serving the nation amidst extreme threats and minimum facilities.

The paramilitary force has been sent to take up humanitarian works in the event of refugees entering Lawngtlai district of the Myanmar Army. The personnel were also deployed to prevent insurgents from infiltrating into Mizoram soil.

Similarly, Assam Rifles personnel were also posted in Manipur near the Indo-Myanmar border, and frequently, actually almost on daily basis, they are being ambushed and attacked by the militants. Such attacks were never condemned nor did any quarter express any solidarity with the Jawans or the personnel who are guarding the international border.

There are numerous incidents where the AR personnel were attacked.

Given the past record of the force, especially when coupled with the draconian AFSPA and in respect to the human rights, opposition Congress has a valid ground to oppose such move of MHA but it must also consider the threat on the ground that the jawans face. Instead of simply opposing or staging a walk-out, they should try to brainstorm and find a middle ground wherein the jawans can discharge their duties but also not violate any human rights.