Home Ministry took three days to request Army for deployment, according to information collected under Right to Information Act

The riots that raged in Assam in mid-2012, claiming more than 70 lives and displacing lakhs of people, might not have escalated had the Centre reacted on time to the State’s plea for immediate deployment of the Army in Kokrajhar and Chirang districts, according to information gathered under the Right to Information Act.

Official records show that the State government sought help from the Army within 24 hours of the outbreak of violence, but it took the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) three days to request the Army to deploy its personnel, according to the information collected by the Delhi-based Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI).

“Reports say major incidents of violence erupted on July 20 and the State government wrote to the MHA on July 21. The order for deployment of armed forces went out to the DGMO (Director-General Military Operations) by fax on July 24 at 9:22 p.m. There seems to be a gap of three days between the request for assistance and the order issued for deployment,” says CHRI programme coordinator (access to information programme) Venkatesh Nayak.

Mr. Nayak said he had to appeal to the appellate authorities to get the information that the government initially refused to give.

In an e-mail statement, he said the local administration had the powers to seek the assistance of the locally stationed armed forces for dispersing unlawful assemblies. “Even an executive magistrate has the power to requisition the assistance of armed forces without waiting for orders from their superiors. The local head of the armed forces has a duty to assist the local administration to keep the peace under such circumstances…None of these provisions seems to have worked in the violence-affected areas of Assam.

Mr. Nayak quoted The Hindu, which reported how after the Assam violence, the MHA wrote to the Defence Ministry asking it to avoid delay in deployment of the Army in future if requested by the local administration to contain violence. “Early warning signals could have been used to take preventive action…Three days was too long a wait for the dead, the injured and the displaced [in Assam],” he said.

Referring to the 2002 Gujarat riots, he said that when violence broke out, a similar controversy arose about deployment of armed forces. “A similar three-day delay in the deployment of armed forces in the violence-affected parts… was noticeable then as well.”