The Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, today expressed appreciation of Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s effort to visit the trouble-torn state of Manipur. At the same time it posed 10 questions to him.
In a statement, the AHRC said:
Manipur is one of the states in India with a poor human rights record. During the past three years the number of encounter killings reported from the state has steadily increased, until the state administration faced severe criticism for the public execution of two persons on July 23, 2009 by the state police. Mr. P. Chidambaram and a team of officers from the Union Home Ministry are visiting Manipur today and tomorrow.
The Home Minister is known to be having a professional as well as no-nonsense approach in work. Many in India hold him at a high esteem, referring to the Minister as a person who assesses officers and institutions under his command on the basis of their performance. Based on these references, the AHRC wishes to place before the Home Minister the following questions, so that the Minister will be able to help the state administration and the people of Manipur in finding a sensible solution to the six decade long internal conflict in that state.
1. Can the state administration account for the money that it has spent in the past five years for countering insurgent activities in the state? Can it provide the exact details as to who was paid what amount? It is not required for the state government to publicly account every single Rupee of the tax money that it has spent on countering insurgency. But it must be able to produce records to the satisfaction of the Union Home Ministry for at least those expenses, where the spending was Rs. 200,000 or above in a single payment. The state administration must be able to account to the Union Home Ministry that supports the release of such 'Central Funds' to state government.
2. What training was provided to the Manipur State Police and its State Police Commando Unit in the past two years to deal with insurgency? Does it meet the requirements of training offered to a civilian police force that is to undertake counter insurgency activities respecting the rule of law? How many police officers have received such training?
3. What is the process of recruitment to the state police in Manipur? What is the guarantee that the candidates selected for training and appointment in the state police are not selected on the basis of bribes paid to the Chief Minister or to his party's MLAs?
The AHRC has credible information that to secure appointment as a Trainee Sub-Inspector in Manipur, a candidate is required to pay Rs. 1,400,000 to Rs. 1,800,000 as bribe to the Chief Minister or to a designated MLA as of 2010. The AHRC is informed that the officers upon appointment, realises through various means from the public the bribe they have paid to secure a job in the state police service. The AHRC also has credible information that in the process police officers are engaged in extortion, conniving with some of the criminal elements that are also listed in the prohibited organisations' list by the Union Government. It is reported that such widespread corruption is one of the important reasons for a high number of encounter killings and unabated criminal extortion in the state.
4. How many police officers have been investigated in the past three years for crimes alleged to have committed by them, in particular torture and criminal extortion? If any such investigation has been conducted, who has been prosecuted?
If not why?
5. How many instances of encounter killing -- other than the July 23 incident -- have been investigated in the past three years in Manipur? What prevents the state from complying the recommendations made by the National Human Rights Commission concerning encounter killing? If the state administration has conducted such investigations, why is that the reports not sent to the Commission?
6. Why is that most cases of encounter killing show the same pattern?
Most of the cases of encounter killing documented by human rights organisations in Manipur, shows the following pattern: a person is arrested by unidentified police commandos who are often accompanied by officers from a para-military unit or from a military detachment stationed in the state; the arrested person is detained in custody illegally, often for days; later the person found dead at a distant place; the state police immediately release a press note saying that the person was shot dead in an armed encounter; weapons (mostly 0.9 mm pistols, grenades, live cartridges) are shown as recovered from the deceased insurgent.
It would be interesting for the Union Home Ministry to verify how many such recovered/seized articles are produced in courts as material objects recovered from armed insurgents. How many of such recovered materials are kept in police custody? Do they all have separate identification marks? Does the articles and their number tally with the statements issued by the state police in each case? Does the state police have any such accounting system? If so, will the state police dare to make the list public? If not why?
Will the Home Ministry be willing to undertake an impartial accounting of recovered articles? The AHRC is willing to collaborate in such a process with the Union as well as State administration.
In 2009, between January and November, the state police reported 272 executions, which was publicly admitted by Mr. Joykumar Singh, the Director General of Police. In most of the cases, the above pattern has been noted.
This proves two things. One, it defies logic. Further it could also suggest that the state police are ill equipped and ill prepared that many persons they arrest escape from their custody. Or, it has to be assumed that the state police is well informed that at least 24 times each month in 2009, the state police were able to intercept and engage an armed insurgent invariably resulting in the murder of the armed insurgent. If the latter were the case, there must be no more armed insurgents operating openly in the state, or the insurgents are so naïve that they always expose their armed presence to the state police. None of these would satisfy commonsense or the acumen of a lawyer, which Mr. Chidambaram is.
8. Will the state administration put an end to the illegal tax collection of some of the armed insurgent groups in Manipur? It is common knowledge that in Manipur many armed insurgent groups prohibited by the Union Government have setup illegal tax collection (criminal extortion) counters adjacent to police check posts on public roads. Every person, particularly drivers in Manipur know this or are their victims. Why have the state police not stopped it? Or are they hand-in-glove with the insurgents? Or is it the police themselves posing as insurgents?
The Home Minister must know that today in Manipur, it is hard to distinguish between an insurgent and a police officer. Both kills with impunity, extorts money by force from the people and are unaccountable to everything under the sun. Can the Home Minister contribute to change this situation?
8. What plans has the state administration made and executed to regain the confidence of the public? At the moment, Manipur is like a volcano that could erupt anytime. Has the state administration taken the effort to make public its public confidence building plans if they have any? If not, what prevented them in doing so?
9. Will the Home Minister meet Ms. Irom Chanu Sharmila? Reports from India inform that the Home Minister will meet human rights activists in Imphal. Does the Home Minister see Sharmila as a threat to the peace of Manipur or a unifying factor to its fragile social fabric?
10. Will the Home Minister make a public report about his visit to Manipur? The public need not know the nuances of the state's security scenario. But every Indian, especially each person in Manipur has a right to know what is their future in terms of their safety and security. Today they have only stories of fear and anger to say about their Chief Minister and the administration he leads. Can the Union Home Minister bring a difference?
If not what hope does Manipuris have of being part of the world's largest democracy?