Ishrat Jahan, Batla House And AFSPA: The Abuse Of ‘Special’ Powers By The Police And Armed Forces

Posted on August 5, 2013 in Specials

By Manav Garg:

A democracy runs on accountability. In fact, every single organization in a democratic setup runs on accountability — from the government we elect, to the civil servants who work behind the scenes. Some may be directly accountable to the common man, some are under our elected representatives, but an element of transparency is omnipresent.

The only time we tend to leave out this extremely crucial aspect in organizations working under a democratic setup is when “national security” or “general interest of the masses” is at stake. And this is when we exempt agencies that work for national security from some amount of scrutiny, or keep the common man in the dark regarding their functioning. This is why agencies like the Indian army or the Police Services are granted special powers they can wield when immediate action is needed in the interest of the majority.

batla house

What bothers me is where the balance must lie. Do we need to make our so-called “privileged” executive agencies more accountable to avoid misuse of these powers? Or is the old system of keeping them away from spotlight the way to go?

Narrowing down our discussion here to fake encounters — a classic example of misuse of the special powers that our Police services possess, that have been justified by various means. In Uttar Pradesh, the state with the maximum alleged cases of fake encounters in the last decade, fake encounters have often been considered an effective medium used to wipe out dangerous criminals, who would otherwise escape the wrath of the Indian penal code by various methods. This methodology of wiping out criminals, is often used “preemptively”, making the case of misuse of police power seem even stronger.

The case of Ishrat Jahan, and others in areas like J&K and Manipur seem to be even more about misuse of power by the government machinery. On one hand, there have been claims of a BJP run state targeting “Muslim groups”, while the numerous others have been born out of the AFSPA, creating popular demand for its removal.

The recent HC judgment on the Batla House case provided a new picture altogether. Even with the judiciary sticking to the case being a genuine encounter, and numerous Muslim groups fighting to prove the Police wrong, the very thought of a fake encounter on the lines of inter-departmental rivalry is staggering. As the ‘All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat’ president had to say about this issue — the input for this encounter came from a director of an Intelligence Bureau who has 17 cases of fake encounter pending against him. This, and other factors, like the absence of exits in the building, other than the main door do cast an element of suspicion over the entire encounter.

Where do we start taking powers away from our executive to react in emergency situations? On one side is the need for a powerful central police department, that can fight crime independently, and is not a puppet dancing to someone’s tunes. On the other hand are over 440 cases of fake encounters in India in 5 years. Has the misuse of power risen to an extent where it is necessary to start curbing this power in the future?