The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a personal petition filed by 300 personnel of the Indian Army. The heartening petition filed by the Army personnel challenges the registration of FIRs against them which were filed during their active duty in areas where the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) is applied. The Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra which also had Justice A M Khanwilkar considered the submission filed by lawyer Aishwarya Bhati before giving the consent to hear the plea further on August 20. Lawyer Aishwarya Bhati is the counsel for the Army personnel who have taken to the Supreme Court asking for stoppage on registration of FIRs and subsequent prosecution of the Army personnel in the areas where AFSPA is in force. The Army personnel in their plea have raised the issue that registration of FIRs and prosecution of Army personnel is against the provisions of AFSPA.
AFSPA grants immunity to the soldiers who work in terribly volatile environments, following the rules laid down in AFSPA is very much needed for the armed forces to operate freely. Registration of FIRs and the subsequent prosecution breaks the morale of the Armed forces. Many Army personnel are fighting legal battles on their own for the acts committed during anti-terror operations in Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir. The Supreme Court itself had directed the courts to begin prosecutions against serving army personnel for alleged excesses and fake encounters, especially in Manipur. The plea filed by the Army personnel is a heartening plea to stop the double toll which FIRs and prosecutions take on the serving army men. Apart from fighting the terrorists in a hostile environment the mental stress which comes from fighting a court battle is too much for anyone. The army personnel who have cases registered against them have to carry this mental and monetary burden on their heads apart from the strain owing to the duty.
It is noteworthy that many FIRs have been filed and cases are ongoing against members of the armed forces despite AFSPA being in force in the states. The situation would have been even ghastlier had AFSPA been withdrawn from these disturbed areas where anti-India forces are active and serve as a constant threat to the nation and common citizens of the country. The security forces need to have the backing of the judiciary and the common people to work efficiently in such adverse environment. The least which the judiciary and we as citizens can do is to give them the liberty to work freely. Fighting a court case is not an easy task in itself. Doing it while serving in extreme environments adds a degree of unwanted pressure on the army personnel whose work would get affected due to the legal battles. The Supreme Court should at least make provisions that the army personnel who serve and protect the citizens of the country are provided with peace of mind by giving them the much needed respite from legal retaliations.