New Delhi’s latest promise to look into AFSPA reverses the ground covered by the Working Groups set up by the prime minister which clearly recommended revocation of AFSPA and Disturbed Area Act in 2007 among a host of other recommendations. SHAHNAWAZ KHAN reports.
The Shopian gang rape and murder has rekindled the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) debate in Kashmir. Omar Abdullah had taken up the issue with New Delhi soon after he took over as the chief minister earlier this year. He was asked to wait for Indian general elections then. Now he has raised the issue again, and Union Home Minister P Chidambaram told reporters on his recent visit to Srinagar that he would be looking into it.
Chidambaram also made remarks about limiting the role of troops in counterinsurgency operations, but did not set any deadline, or make any concrete assurance on the revocation of AFSPA. Meanwhile, the opposition People’s Democratic Party says it is launching a “state level grass roots campaign for revocation of AFSPA and demilitarization of civilian areas”.
However, the fresh rhetoric on AFSPA comes at the cost of ground covered by Working Groups set up Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the ‘path breaking’ Round Table Conferences.
AFSPA revocation is just one of the many recommendations made by the Working Groups in 2007. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had assured implementation of their recommendations. “Certain laws made operational during the period of militancy (e.g Armed Forces Special Powers Act, Disturbed Areas Act) impinge on fundamental rights of citizens and adversely affect the public. They should be reviewed and revoked,” the report of the Working Group on Confidence Building Measures across Segments of Society in the State, submitted to the prime minister in January 2007, said. “Law and order matters should be dealt with, to the maximum extent possible, through normal laws,” it remarked.
The Working Group also made other recommendations that included strengthening of State Human Rights Commission, rehabilitation of orphans and widows, return of youth from Pakistan administered Kashmir, and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits.
The Working Group on Confidence Building Measures across Segments of Society in the State was one of the five groups formed by the prime minister. Four of them met and submitted their reports. Two years after the prime minister accepted the recommendations, no headway has been made.
“There has been no follow up. Unfortunately nothing came out of it so far,” said senior journalist Ghulam Nabi Khayal who was a member of the Working Group on Confidence Building Measures across Segments of Society in the State. “If the recommendations had been implemented, there would have been a lot of ease in the tension in the state.”
With no word from the prime minister, the recommendations have made it to the list of New Delhi’s broken promises in Kashmir. The list of New Delhi’s un-kept promises in Kashmir is long – from Jawaharlal Nehru’s promise of a plebiscite in 1947 to Manmohan Singh’s zero tolerance for human rights violations, not to talk of P V Narsima Rao‘s ‘sky is the limit’.
Plebiscite is probably too old a promise to remember, and for the ‘zero tolerance for human rights violations’ promise, troops often seem to have missed the last word of the phrase, leaving the prime minister to content himself by saying, “human rights violations are an aberration”. Wonder how many times he needs to repeat it to realise otherwise.
As New Delhi forgets its words, it loves to believe Kashmir has forgotten too. But generations of Kashmiris who have never seen Nehru tell you that soon after accession with India, Indian prime minister promised plebiscite in the centre of Lal Chowk to hundreds of thousands of people that had gathered to hear him.
To some, it may seem unfair to take premiers to account for ‘populist’ promises made at public speeches during ‘cordial’ visits, but the working group reports are official reports formulated on sound policy decisions.
An outcome of the Round Table Conferences, the working groups comprised of representatives from major unionist political and social groups in the state that include National Conference, Congress, Peoples Democratic Party, Bhartiya Janata Party, Panun Kashmir, Communist Party of India and others.
Aimed to initiate a dialogue across a broad spectrum of society, including separatists in J&K, the Round Table Conference (RTC) were called by the prime minister Singh in 2006 as a major confidence-building measure.
The RTCs lost their major sheen as separatists stayed away, making these a monologue where government of India held discussions with various actors in the unionist camp.
However, these led to the formation of five working groups dealing with 1) Confidence Building Measures Across Segments of Society in the State, 2) Strengthening Relations Across the Line of Control, 3) Ensuring Good Governance, and 4) Economic Development, and 5) Centre State Relations.
Except the group on centre state relations, working groups met and submitted their recommendations to the prime minister, who in turn assured their implementation.
The recommendations of the groups were arrived at through consensus among the members, which in many cases was the overwhelming majority opinion on a particular issue.
The working group on confidence building measures across segments of society in the state which recommended revoking of armed forces special powers act, and disturbed areas act, was chaired by Hamid Ansari, then head of the National Commission of Minorities. He is now the Vice President of India.
Vice President Ansari, coincidentally, visits the state this week to present degrees to students at the University of Kashmir.
The visit comes at the time of renewed AFSPA debate in the state, to which Ansari himself has recommended revocation albeit in a different capacity.
“AFSPA is an anti-people law. This gives troops power to make arrests without warrants, kill someone on mere suspicion, or set fire to a property on mere suspicion on militant presence,” said Khayal.
The act was implemented in the state in 1990 after the outbreak of militancy. AFSPA grants impunity to troops from trial in civil courts, and hence hinders state action against any troops accused of grave human rights violations.
“Because of AFSPA, not a single accused from the armed forces has been tried in civil courts. If this act is repealed, the investigation will shift to civil courts,” explains Khayal.
Over the last two decades, there are hundreds of instances where the army or paramilitary troops are accused of killing innocent people in the garb of counter insurgency operations in Kashmir. In instances, where the civilian administration investigates rights violations, it faces non-cooperation from the armed forces.
In the infamous fake encounter case that surfaced in the state in early 2007, the state tried a senior police officer and his associates involved in killing civilians in staged encounters and passing them off as foreign militants.
In sharp contrast, army declined to cooperate in investigating the possible involvement of its men in the crime along with police and CRPF.
In Pathribal killings in 2000, police and troops abducted and killed local residents in a staged gunfight and passed them off as militants responsible for Chittisinghpora massacre of Sikhs. While the state later investigated the crime – not without hitches, lapses and fudging – the army declined to cooperate in the investigation.
In February this year, army men killed two civilians in Bomai Sopore. Army claimed that the incident occurred while they were chasing some suspects. A civilian enquiry found the troops responsible for acting on a weak tip off, and violating the Standard Operating Procedure. However, the army declined to hand over its men for trial in civil courts, but initiated an internal probe after intervention from New Delhi.
Most political groups in the state see the AFSPA as an anti people law. Its revocation was recommended on the basis of a major consensus among the working group members to which only the right wing Bhartiya Janta Party opposed. Chaman Lal Gupta represented the BJP in the working group on confidence building measures across segments of society. BJP is still opposing the AFSPA revocation and any move to withdraw CRPF forces from the state.
“This step could lead to a dangerous situation as law and order situation is already disturbed in the state,” state BJP spokesperson Ramesh Arora told reporters in Jammu last week after Chidmabaram’s statement over limiting paramilitary forces’ role and looking into AFSPA.
Arora said that BJP will “agitate if the government takes any decision on the issues”. He also said that Shopian incident was being blown by “vested interests” only to delay the Amarnath pilgrimage.
In five months of his rule, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has faced three major incidents which made the demands for AFSPA revocation vocal.
First it was the killing of two civilians by army in Bomai Sopore, then a carpenter by CRPF in Khaigam, now the twin rape and murder in Shopian where residents are pointing fingers towards the police and troops.
Raising its pitch against the AFSPA, a PDP spokesman said that “atrocities like Shopian triple murder, Bumai, Khaigam and countless others are not isolated incidents of human rights violations but these represent a mindset that needs to be changed through drastic measures at political level. Administrative actions would be futile and judicial scrutiny impossible in presence of laws like the AFSPA which are designed for a situation that no more exists on the ground.”
PDP president Mehbooba added, “The campaign should not be seen as directed against anybody but it is to channelise the democratic aspirations of a people who have been denied all fruits of a democratic society during the last seven decades.”
Former transport minister, Hakeem Yaseen, who was also a member of the working group on confidence building measures, is hopeful about the implementation of WG recommendations.
“We hope that now the prime minister has returned to power, he will take up the recommendations now,” he told Kashmir Life. Yaseen said he had taken up the issue of relief to widows and orphans of militancy irrespective of whether they were widows of policemen, civilians or militants.
The working group report, while stressing relief and rehabilitation measures for all victims of militancy, recommends that the state government “may consider extending the scheme of scholarship” to orphans of killed militants. So far the state as a policy does not provide any relief or assistance to widows and orphans of ‘certified’ militants.
Apart from revocation of AFSPA and Disturbed Areas Act, the working group on confidence building measures recommended: Strengthening of State Human Rights Commission on the patterns of National Human Rights Commission,
Relief and assistance to militancy victims, Data collection of all widows and orphans affected by militancy, Effective package for rehabilitation and return of Kashmiri Pandit migrants and also for militancy affected migrants from districts of Jammu province.
A policy aiding return of Kashmiri youth in Pakistan and Pakistan administered Kashmir who want to return home.
Preservation of cultural and religious heritage of the state.
The group stresses on human rights awareness in civil and military government functionaries, and recommends investigative machinery independent of the regular police for the SHRC.
It adds that the recommendations of the SHRC be made obligatory and where these cannot be accepted, a speaking order should indicate the reasons. It also recommends the appointment of an empowered committee to report regularly on the action taken by government on the recommendations of SHRC.
The issue of human rights has also figured in the working group on Ensuring Good Governance which also suggests strengthening of SHRC on somewhat similar lines.
The SHRC in its current form is often regarded as toothless, as the government is at will to act or not to act on its recommendations. In most of the cases, it chooses not to act. Lacking independent investigative machinery, the SHRC is unable to probe complaints fully.
Khayal says the government is not serious about any of these issues. “The talk about the return of Kashmiri Pandits, they don’t mean it, they talk about curbing human rights violations, they don’t mean it,” said Khayal.
The recommendations of others groups have similarly been dejected. The Working Group on Strengthening Relations across the Line of Control recommended a measure to simplify travel across the LoC, start trade, expand people to people contact and open up additional routes along the LoC.
What the Working Groups Recommended
WG1: CBMs across segments of society in the State
Upholding human rights and implementing Prime Minister’s zero-tolerance for violations were the main highlight of a Working Group (WG) constituted to recommend CBMs across J&K society. It wanted law and order to be tackled under normal laws and recommended revocation of Armed Forces Special Powers Act and Disturbed Areas Act, rehabilitation of orphans, widows, Kashmir Pandits and a definite package for those who forsworn militancy.
Led by M Hamid Ansari, now Vice President, it sought the strengthening of SHRC and constitution of an empowered committee to report regularly on the action taken on its recommendations. Apart from offering a revised rehabilitation package to victims of militancy, it suggested extending existing scholarship scheme to the orphans of slain militants.
To prevent reversion to militancy, it suggested a “definite policy/package” insisting that those who forsworn militancy should be treated with dignity. While security forces should be instructed to “keep a check on fake encounters and fake recovery of arms”, the group wanted general amnesty to undertrials for minor offences and jailed innocents. Suggesting a careful assessment of number of Kashmiri youth willing to return from PaK should be considered for peaceful return and rehabilitation who joined militancy for misguided ideological reasons, monetary considerations or were forced into militancy. The WG has actually said that an effective method for the proper verification of the identity of the willing person be devised and given a time frame following which the existing rehabilitation policy could be extended.
For migrant Kashmiri Pandits, Ansari sought their rights to be recognized, a comprehensive package devised for their rehabilitation. Besides, they should get jobs against every vacancy they create. Central government organizations, it added, can adjust KPs under SRO-43. It also wanted inventory of KP properties and proper rent against its occupation by security forces.
WG2: Strengthening relations across LoC
M K Rasgotra led WG mandated to suggest strengthening of relations across LoC offered a blueprint of the Joint Consultative Group (JCG) between J&K and PaK on issues of trade and culture and environment. Apart from suggesting seven new trans-LoC routes, it asked for considering opening of a track with China through Ladakh when conditions are appropriate.
On the existing five trans-LoC points – of which actually only three are better functioning, Rasgotra said apart from persons already eligible (having relatives on either side) religious and group tourists and those requiring immediate medical aid should be permitted.
It suggested permanent resident certificate (PRC) be taken as a basic document for the travel permit, security clearance within 60 days of application and multiple entry-exit permit for a year for traders.
On trans-LoC trade, a Joint Consultative Machinery (JCM) comprising trade and officials from both sides was suggested leading to trade across LoC. Apart from exchange of students, scholars, journalists and lawyers, Rasgotra suggested unlocking the trans-LoC phone lines – both landline and mobile – that are currently barred on security grounds.
Apart from increasing the frequency of the two trans-LoC buses, Rasgotra’s had identified seven more trans-LoC points and suggested that initiative for their reopening could be taken unilaterally regardless of the response from PaK and Islamabad. The new points are Kargil-Skardu, Turtuk-Khapula (Ladakh), Jammu-Sialkote, Chamb Jorian-Mirpur, Jhangar (Nowshehra)-Mirpur and Kotli (the route will be bifurcated at the LoC) (Jammu) and Gurez Astoor-Gilgit and Titwal-Chilhan (Kashmir). Besides, it has suggested two meeting points – one each at Hundurman on Kargil-Skardu route and a suitable point at Turtuk-Khapulu route. Turtuk became part of J&K in 1971 war.
On JCG, the WG says 10 legislators from each side can exchange views periodically on social, economic, cultural and trade related matters besides undertaking consultations for disaster management and relief operations. Apart from JCG on tourism, horticulture and environment, the WG suggested a programme for removal of landmines for better utilization of agriculture and grazing lands. The entire LoC is literally a minefield and thousands of mines were sowed after militancy broke out. Prevailing security situation, the report says is the only rider for implementation of all these measures.
WG3: Economic Development
Dr C Rangarajan crafted a Rs. 7947 crores package (2007) that envisaged transferring the just operational 390-MW Dulhasti Power project to J&K. It suggested creating Rs. 200 crores Asset Reconstruction Company, Rs. 400 crores for adult literacy and urban employment and Rs. 200 crores for Special Industrial Zone (SIZ).
On the industrial front, the WG suggested SIZ instead of SEZ. “The SIZ will mimic all the physical attributes and governance structures of SEZs but not necessarily their fiscal and statutory dimensions. Like SEZ, the SIZ too will be a large area with world-class infrastructure, captive power generation, high quality services and utilities but will lack tax concessions and export obligations. They will be free to sell in the country or export”, the report says. To address the industrial sickness, Dr Rangarajan suggested an Asset Reconstruction Company (ARC) with an initial corpus of Rs. 300 crores in 2:1 ration between the center and the state. This company will take over the infected assets of the FIs, cleanse their balance sheets, restore their viability and make them eligible for drawing refinance from central institutions. State owned Finance Corporation alone has infected accounts worth Rs. 198 crores, it said.
WG4: Ensuring Good Governance
N C Saxena’s WG on good governance suggested J&K should copy some of the best governance practices from other states. These include Kerela’s Service Delivery Project (SDP), Palakkad districts DC Suite, the poverty eradication project Kudumbasree besides the FRIENDS – a single window scheme where citizens pay fees and charges for the services they avail. J&K can take lessons from Andhra Pradesh’s Indira Kranti Pratham Project that creates SHGs from amongst women from weaker sections and e-Seva. From Maharashtra, the WG has listed SETHU and up-gradation of stamps and registration department.
In order to do away with the “transfer industry”, J&K should copy Karnataka’s transfer policy and see how best Learning Guarantee Programme (LGP) – a PPP initiative with Azim Premji Foundation – can improve the quality of primary education by focusing on learning outcomes. Apart from Gujarat’s SWAGAT (state wide attention of grievances by application of technology), Saxena’s group wants J&K to learn from PPP projects in Tamil Nadu’s health sector, MP’s awarded wining Gyandoot and Rogi Kalyan Samiti and UP’s Lokvani.
Saxena had also suggested Chief Information Commissioner and departmental information officers for effective implementation of the Right to Information. It suggested sweeping review of laws especially revenue laws, a transparent transfer policy, effective system of monitoring developmental projects, strengthening of SHRC and adequate security to minorities besides zero tolerance for human rights violations. It saw devolution of revenues and powers to the existing Panchayat Raj system as the only way out for strengthening local self-government.