The Centre on Sunday constituted a high-level committee, headed by a secretary-rank officer, to examine the possibility of lifting the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in Nagaland, apparently to soothe the rising tension in the northeastern state over the killing of 14 civilians.
Vivek Joshi, who is Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, will head the five-member committee while Additional Secretary in the Union Home Ministry Piyush Goyal will be the member secretary of the panel. Other members of the committee are chief secretary and DGP of Nagaland and DGP of the Assam Rifles, PTI quoted a government official privy to the development as saying.
The committee has been set up three days after Union Home Minister Amit Shah held a meeting with Chief Ministers of Nagaland and Assam Neiphiu Rio and Himanta Biswa Sarma respectively.
The December 23 meeting, held in New Delhi, was also attended by Nagaland Deputy Chief Minister Y Patton and former chief minister of Nagaland T R Zeliang. The panel will submit its report within 45 days. The committee will look into the possibility of the withdrawal of the AFSPA in Nagaland, where it has been operational for decades, and a decision will be taken on the basis of its recommendations.
Officials said that disciplinary action is also likely to be taken against the Army personnel, who were directly involved in the botched counter-insurgency operation in Nagaland’s Mon district in early December, after a fair inquiry. The Army personnel may be placed under suspension pending the probe, another government official said.
Protests have been going on in several districts of Nagaland for the withdrawal of the AFSPA, ever since an Army unit killed the 14 civilians in Mon mistaking them as insurgents.
The AFSPA empowers security forces to conduct operations and arrest anyone without any prior warrant. It also gives immunity to the forces if they shoot someone dead.
The Nagaland chief minister earlier has tweeted: “Briefed the media with regard to the meeting chaired by Hon’ble @HMOIndia Shri @AmitShah on Dec’ 23, 2021 in New Delhi. Grateful to Amit Shah ji for taking up the matter with utmost seriousness. The State Govt. appeals to all sections to continue to maintain a peaceful atmosphere”. The Nagaland government will provide government jobs to the next of kin of the deceased 14 people.
The home minister had informed Parliament on December 6 that “a team of 21 para-commandos of the Indian Army laid an ambush for insurgents in Mon district of Nagaland on December 4 but “it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity”. He also expressed regret over the incident in which civilians were killed by security personnel. Shah had also said that a Special Investigation Team (SIT) has been constituted and directed to complete the investigation within one month.
“Based on inputs received by the Indian Army about the movement of the insurgents near Tiru village in Tizit area of Mon district, a team of 21 para-commandos of Indian Army laid an ambush in the evening of December 4, 2021.
“During the ambush, a vehicle approached the location and it was signaled to stop. However, the vehicle tried to flee, following which the vehicle, suspected of carrying insurgents, was fired upon resulting in the killing of 6 out of 8 persons travelling in the vehicle. However, it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. The two persons who sustained injuries were evacuated to the medical facilities by the Army personnel,” he said.
“Upon receiving the news, local villagers surrounded the Army team, burnt two vehicles and assaulted them, resulting in the death of one Security Force (SF) personnel and injuries to several others. To disperse the crowd, SFs opened fire which resulted in the killing of 7 more civilians and injuring some others,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Army on Sunday again expressed regret over the “sad and unfortunate” incident. It said the probe is progressing expeditiously and all efforts are underway to conclude it at the earliest. The Army also assured that action would be taken in the case in accordance with the law to “secure justice for all” and urged the people of the state “to be patient and wait for the findings of the Army inquiry”.
(With PTI inputs)