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Army’s stand makes it hard to amend AFSPA: Chidambaram

Sandeep Joshi
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P. Chidambaram
P. Chidambaram

Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram on Wednesday stressed the need for making the controversial Armed Forces (Special Power) Act (AFSPA) a more “humanitarian” law, but asserted that the Union government could not move forward as there was “no consensus” between the Army and the government on the issue.

“The Army has taken a strong stand against any dilution of the AFSPA… We can’t move forward because there is no consensus.

“The present and former Army Chiefs have taken a strong position that the Act should not be amended... They also does not want the government notification [of bringing areas under the AFSPA) to be taken back. How does the government move forward…to make the AFSPA a more humanitarian law?,” he said, delivering the K. Subrahmanyam Memorial Lecture on ‘India’s National Security- Challenges and Priorities’ at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA).

Notably, the Justice Verma Committee, in its report setting forth measures to curb sexual violence, highlighted the misuse of the AFSPA by Army personnel and recommended that “sexual violence against women by members of the armed forces or uniformed personnel must be brought within the purview of the ordinary criminal law.” But the Centre has not included this in its ordinance to strengthen laws to tackle sexual assaults.

Calling for strong punishment to those involved in corruption, which affected the very fabric of society, Mr. Chidambaram, however, lamented “trial by media” of those accused of corruption. “We convict first, then ask for evidence and then frame charge… This is complete inversion of jurisprudence. I understand people’s anxiety to root out… corruption… but [through trial by media] we are sowing seeds that will destroy our law and order system. We should leave it to our courts,” he said.

Referring to security challenges, he said:

“It is a matter of regret that we are not ploughing in more funds and more human resources into research and design [R&D], especially R&D that is related to national security. The situation will not change unless we allow more players, who will bring more resources, into the security-related manufacturing and services sectors. If we wish to scale up, both on technology and numbers, we need far more resources than what we can afford today.”

He, however, parried questions on a possible Rs.10,000-crore cut in defence expenditure in the coming budget.

“If it is cut for this year it is cut, you cannot do anything about it. That money you cannot have. Can it be provided next year? We can, provided we can grow at a higher rate and we have more money.”

He, however, pointed out that a cut in defence expenditure or in police forces would severely compromise the country’s defence and security preparedness and affect its capacity to meet security challenges.

Expressing concern at the growing fiscal and revenue deficit that affected government spending in all sectors, he said the country must “have the money to provide the money.

If we do not have the money, we cannot borrow and provide the money. Borrowing is not an option for India… We can borrow within limits.”

The key to greater public welfare and greater security was more growth, which would increase the government’s capacity to fund essential services. “It is, therefore, a self-evident truth that growth is the key for greater public welfare and greater security. Yet, we adopt a disdainful attitude to growth…Growth is necessary to promote social welfare, provide education and health services and create more jobs.”

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