NEW DELHI, July 8 - Asserting that the situation in Manipur has �never been one of war�, the Supreme Court today directed a thorough probe into alleged fake encounter killings there, saying the use of �excessive or retaliatory force� by the armed forces or police was not permissible in �disturbed areas� under the draconian AFSPA.
Maintaining that inquest was needed �to know the truth� in Manipur, the apex court, while dealing with a PIL on alleged 1,528 extra-judicial killings in Manipur from 2000 to 2012 by security forces and police, said �the public order situation in Manipur is, at best, an internal disturbance and there is no threat to the security of the country or a part thereof either by war or an external aggression or an armed rebellion�.
Secondly, for tackling internal disturbance, the armed forces can be deployed in aid of the civil power, a bench comprising Justices MB Lokur and UU Lalit said.
�The armed forces do not supplant the civil administration but only supplement it,� it said, adding that �the deployment of the armed forces is intended to restore normalcy and it would be extremely odd if normalcy were not restored within some reasonable period, certainly not an indefinite period or an indeterminate period.�
Ordering probe into the alleged fake encounter killings, the bench said �it is necessary to know the truth so that the law is tempered with justice. The exercise for knowing the truth mandates ascertaining whether fake encounters or extra-judicial executions have taken place and if so, who are the perpetrators of the human rights violations and how can the next of kin be commiserated with and what further steps ought to be taken, if any.�
The bench, which also dealt in detail with the controversial Armed Force Special Powers Act (AFSPA), said Manipur has been facing a public order situation equivalent to internal disturbance and the tragedy is that this has continued since 1958 � for almost 60 years and a generation or two has gone by with the issues festering for decades.
�It is high time that concerted and sincere efforts are continuously made by the four stakeholders � civil society in Manipur, the insurgents, the State of Manipur and the Government of India to find a lasting and peaceful solution to the festering problem, with a little consideration from all quarters. It is never too late to bring peace and harmony in society,� the bench said.
�No such declaration has been made by the Union of India � explicitly or even implicitly � and nothing has been shown to us that would warrant a conclusion that there is a war or an external aggression or an armed rebellion in Manipur. That is not anybody�s case at all, nor has it even been suggested,� the bench said.
On the alleged fake encounters, the apex court said �if members of our armed forces are deployed and employed to kill citizens of our country on the mere allegation or suspicion that they are �enemy�, not only the rule of law but our democracy would be in grave danger.�
It further said that before branding a person as a terrorist or insurgent, �there must be the commission or some attempt or semblance of a violent overt act�.
If an offence is committed even by army personnel, there is no concept of absolute immunity from trial by the ordinary criminal court.
�To contend that this would have a deleterious and demoralising impact on the security forces is certainly one way of looking at it, but from the point of view of a citizen, living under the shadow of a gun that can be wielded with impunity, outright acceptance of the proposition advanced is equally unsettling and demoralising, particularly in a constitutional democracy like ours,� the bench said.
It also rejected the Centre�s contention that an internal enquiry was conducted through the Human Rights Division of the Army and the Defence Ministry to ensure that any violation of human rights was duly punished and there was no need to have any independent probe into the alleged fake encounters. � PTI