Own It

cover-pageMost of the infrastructure that evolved in last more than twenty years to fight insurgency, has its foundations on two inter-dependent laws, the disturbed areas act (DAA) and the armed forces special powers act (AFSPA). Interesting pieces of legislation, these twin laws are aimed at denying rights – including right to life in case of suspicion that societies routinely enjoy. Targeted for specific overwhelming situations, the two laws can be promulgated and operated by both, the state and the central governments. These are draconian in application and special in nature. AFSPA cannot operate unless it has areas declared as disturbed. And in case the DAA ceases to exist, the AFSPA has a special in-built mechanism that helps it declare areas disturbed to operate. Regardless of the use, misuse and abuse of the twin laws over the years, the discourse is focused on the fact that if the situation has improved, the routine systems must be allowed to function. There is a broad consensus amongst political parties, civil society and the separatist camp that these laws must be rolled back as they have outlived their utility. Chief Minister, in fact, had once set a deadline for the gradual withdrawal. He had even identified areas which can become legally normal. But nothing of that sort has happened. Now he asserts the process of withdrawal shall start in his current tenure that has nearly eight months left.  But the debate has taken a different course. Now neither the centre nor the state governments seem to be owning this legal infrastructure that is still enforced in the state. Parliament Assurance Committee has recently dropped the assurance about AFSPA-related recommendations that group of interlocutors had made in their report in 2012. It said the MHA has not got any comment from J&K government or its legislature. The report hinted that AFSPA is state government’s baby and its fate can be decided by the state only.  But the state government is talking in a different language. It has been consistently asserting for last many years that given the improvement in the situation and the phenomenal fall in militant violence, the AFSPA needs to be rolled out. It has consistently been saying that the government is pleading with the central government to start gradual roll back of the special laws. So it has created a situation that neither the central government nor the state government is exhibiting the ownership of this legal system. Who has the right to withdraw? Who has the authority to take the final call? In fact, the law can be operated by both the governments.  It was in this situation that some of the lawmakers had suggested the state government for the umpteenth time that it must start asserting its authority. Once the state government starts de-listing areas as disturbed using the sections within AFSPA, the applicability of the AFSPA will cease automatically. It could be done without getting into confrontation with the central government.  AFSPA is key source to a sort of lawlessness within the governance structure as a result of which justice delivery has taken a back seat. Pathribal apart, there are countless cases in which no state government could get justice to its people as the law followed the maze that AFSPA has laid over the years. This crisis hits the credibility of the governance structure and hurts the systems that otherwise should have grown and improved for a place that is struggling to manage a painful recent history.


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