SC rejects plea filed by 700 Army soldiers in Manipur Encounter deaths

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday rejected petition filed by Army personnel who protested the dilution of protection from prosecution under Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in disturbed areas for alleged fake encounters.

The Supreme Court had ordered a CBI probe after learning the Army had not yet conducted an inquiry into 15 – 20-year-old Manipur encounter incidents.

The Bench headed by Justices Madan B Lokur and U U Lalit said: “We are aware of the difficult situation faced by soldiers in disturbed areas. That is why we repeatedly asked the attorney general on action taken on complaints of fake encounters for the past 15-20 years. When we found nothing has been done, we handed over the investigation to CBI in only those cases where a prima facie finding on possible fake encounters had been recorded by high court, a judicial commission, Justice Santosh Hegde Commission or NHRC.”

The apex court has contended that protection under AFSPA would be available to soldiers for every genuine encounter.

The court had earlier ordered registration of FIRs in as many as 100 among 1,528 cases of the alleged extra-judicial killings by the Manipur police and Army between 1985 – 2010.

Counsel appearing for Centre, Advocate Mehta pleaded before the bench to hear Centre’s argument but the bench was in no mood to hear it, TOI reports.

He said, “We cannot shut our eyes to the unusual situation faced by soldiers in disturbed areas. Their hands must not shake while fighting terror. At the same time, a balance needs to be struck to ensure that a soldier does not become trigger happy. Let there be a debate on the issue of striking a balance. Till then, the investigations order by the SC need to be stalled. We cannot demoralize our armed forces.”

Justices Lokur and Lalit asked the SG, “Who has stopped you from coming out with a mechanism to strike a balance? Why does it require our intervention? These are issues you (the Centre) need to decide. We are not stopping you from debating. You can debate and find out a mechanism for striking a balance between armed forces’ operations against extremists and protecting the rights of innocent.”

Counsel appearing for soldiers, Advocate Aishwarya Bhati had said: “The country which doubts its soldiers and their martyrdom is bound to lead to a collapse of its sovereignty and integrity.”

The petition filed by 700 odd army soldiers said prosecution of officers and soldiers on bona fide actions is having demoralizing effects on Amry soldiers and troops deployed for counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations in J&K and north-eastern states.

“Soldiers never hesitate to lay down their lives in the line of duty in order to uphold the dignity of the Indian flag. However, the extraordinary circumstances in which their colleagues are being persecuted and prosecuted for carrying out bona fide duties, without making any distinction or determination whether the acts in question were done in good faith, without any criminal intent, has compelled them to approach the SC,” the petitioners had said.