At a time when at least 30 people have died in police action in Assam since May, Justice Arun Mishra, the chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), on Friday said that there was “no room for instant justice in this country” and that “[fake] encounters” were “barbaric.”
“Encounters should not happen…they are barbaric. There is no room for instant justice in this country. Law must take its own course, and the person who is guilty must be tried in court and then punished in accordance with law,” Mishra told reporters, after the conclusion of a two-day public hearing camp of the NHRC in Guwahati.
With the Himanta Biswa Sarma-led Assam government adopting a “zero tolerance” policy against crime, over 40 alleged criminals have been injured and 30 killed in firing incidents in the state since May — a trend that has led Opposition and human rights activists to to accuse Sarma of encouraging a “trigger-happy” police.
The latest death in police action was reported on Friday, when Jackson Ronghang, a self-styled chairman of the newly floated Karbi Democratic Liberation Front, died in an alleged shootout in Karbi Anglong district.
Mishra, however, added that it cannot be alleged that all encounters were fake. “Some may be fake, but we take up each complaint and examine the merit of each case. There are three aspects that the NHRC looks into in such matters — compensation for the victim or his or her family, registration of criminal cases and initiation of departmental action against the accused,” news agency PTI quoted him saying.
Regarding the security ambush in Nagaland’s Oting village, which led to the death of 14 civilians, Mishra said the NHRC had taken up the case suo-motu. “We have taken suo motu cognisance on the basis of newspaper reports. We have called for the report of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) constituted by the state government as well as the Union Home Ministry for their stand to be clarified before the commission. However, we cannot comment on the merits of the case right now because it is sub-judice,” he said.
Mishra said that the NHRC cannot examine or hold a debate on the “legality or constitutionality” of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Repeal of the Act, which grants special powers to armed forces to maintain law and order in “disturbed areas”, has gotten a renewed push since the Oting incident.
“We cannot discuss the constitutionality of any Act. Legality and constitutionality is not the job of the NHRC. However, if the situation has improved in a particular district where it is applicable, we expect that the government should review and take a decision,” he said.
Responding to a question on eviction drives of “illegal settlers” from government land, Mishra said that the PIL is pending before the Gauhati High Court, and the outcome will depend on the order of the court. “However, we can ensure rehabilitation measures to those affected,” he added.
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