New Delhi, Jul 8: The situation in Manipur has "never been one of war" and killing of citizens on suspicion that they are the "enemy" gravely endangers the democracy, the Supreme Court said today while holding that use of "excessive force" by the armed forces or police was not permissible in 'disturbed areas' under the draconian AFSPA.
The apex court, which directed thorough probe into alleged fake encounter killings, maintained that inquest was needed "to know the truth" in Manipur where "we need to be clear that the situation has never been one of a war or an external aggression or an armed rebellion that threatens the security of the country or a part thereof."
While dealing with a PIL on alleged 1528 extra-judicial killings in the state from 2000 to 2012 by security forces and police, it said "if members of our armed forces are deployed and employed to kill citizens of our country on the mere allegation or suspicion that they are 'enemy', not only the rule of law but our democracy would be in grave danger."
A bench of Justices M B Lokur and U U Lalit said that before branding a person as a terrorist or insurgent, "there must be the commission or some attempt or semblance of a violent overt act".
Delivering an 85-page verdict, the top court said "the public order situation in Manipur is, at best, an internal disturbance and there is no threat to the security of the country or a part thereof either by war or an external aggression or an armed rebellion".
It also said that the armed forces "do not supplant the civil administration but only supplement it" and added that their deployment was "intended to restore normalcy and it would be extremely odd if normalcy were not restored within some reasonable period, certainly not an indefinite period or an indeterminate period."
Ordering probe into the alleged fake encounter killings, the bench said "it is necessary to know the truth so that the law is tempered with justice. The exercise for knowing the truth mandates ascertaining whether fake encounters or extra- judicial executions have taken place and if so, who are the perpetrators of the human rights violations and how can the next of kin be commiserated with and what further steps ought to be taken, if any."
The bench, which also dealt in detail with the controversial Armed Force Special Powers Act (AFSPA), said Manipur has been facing a public order situation equivalent to internal disturbance and the tragedy is that this has continued since 1958 for almost 60 years and a generation or two has gone by with the issues festering for decades.
"It is high time that concerted and sincere efforts are continuously made by the four stakeholders civil society in Manipur, the insurgents, the State of Manipur and the Government of India to find a lasting and peaceful solution to the festering problem," the bench said.