Meghalaya High Court has asked the Central Government to consider enforcing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) and the deployment of Armed and Para-Military Forces in the militancy-hit Garo Hills region in the state of Meghalaya to aid the civil administration in order to restore public order and maintain the fast deteriorating law and order situation, till life becomes normal and the incidents of rampant kidnapping and killing totally stop.
The aforesaid order has been passed on November 2 by a full bench of the court consisting of Chief Justice Uma Nath Singh, and Justices TNK Singh and SR Sen while hearing a matter related to the militants calling bandhs in the state. Court has also directed the Principal Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to place the order before the Prime Minister of India for perusal and consideration.
People not safe in insurgency hit Garo hills
Court noted that, as per data supplied by the State Police, in the year 2015, insurgents of Garo Hills have abducted 25 civilians, 27 businessmen, 25 employees of private Sector, five Government employees and five teachers, in total 87, for ransom. Of which few have escaped while few have been murdered. It further observed that the majority of Garo population resides in villages and are basically dependent upon agriculture for their livelihood.
Distressed at the plight of residents, Court observed that though the population of the hills is just about seven lakhs, yet they do not feel secured and have to live totally exposed to the mercy of insurgents who raise all kinds of illegal demands including the food and shelter and when there are forced to do so, they also have to face the wrath and vengeance of Police.
Local authorities failed, despite all efforts
Court observed that the Police and civil authorities in the region, despite the best of their efforts, are not able to control the incidents of kidnapping for ransom and killings and that the funds allocated by the Central Government has not helped in ameliorating the decline of law and order.
No other option left with the High Court, to protect civil liberties of the citizens
Court observed that though it is not oblivious of the fact that with great power, comes great responsibility to exercise self restraint especially in the exercise of powers under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, however as the law and order situation in the Garo Hills has deteriorated so much beyond redemption that it has no option but to issue certain serious directions in order to protect the civil liberties and fundamental rights of the common citizens as well as the public servants.
Union of India has a duty to protect state against internal disturbances
Court further referred to Article 355 of the Constitution of India and noted that the Union of India is under the duty to protect the State against external aggression and internal disturbance. It referred to the case of Naga Peoples Movement of Human Rights v. Union of India, (1998) 2 SCC 109, where the Supreme Court of India has ruled that the Union of India can deploy Armed Forces in aid of Civil Administration to maintain public order in the society.
Court felt that in such circumstances, it has no option but to direct the Central Government to consider the use of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, in the Garo Hills area and deployment of Armed and Para-military forces to control the situation in the aid of but certainly not under the command of civil and police authorities till life becomes normal and the incidents of rampant kidnapping and killing totally stop.
Thus, we direct the Union Home Secretary and the Defence Secretary to ensure compliance by placing this order before the Central Government to consider the use of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 and the deployment of Armed and Para-Military Forces in the Garo Hills area of Meghalaya to control the fast deteriorating law and order situation. We also direct the Principal Secretary in the office of Hon’ble the Prime Minister to place this order before him for perusal and consideration.
Even judges of the High Court not safe
Discussing the level of lawlessness in the region, Court observed that even the Chief Justice and High Court Judges are getting veiled threats through anonymous letters. It felt that such judges would have to face the consequence after their retirement. It observed:
Generally, we put all such anonymous letters into shredders but since two of us are to lay our office in January and February, 2016 and third one in March, 2019, and one cannot claim to be fully safe and secured in the wake of incident of kidnapping of the BDO, brother-in-law of the Superintendent of Police, who is Incharge of High Court security, we expect the Central Government to give its response on this issue as well.