More powers in special zones: J&K police Bill has AFSPA ring

FGF

While Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah frequently speaks out against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in force in the state, as per a Bill drafted by his own government, the state police could get powers quite similar to the controversial legislation.

The 76-page 'Jammu and Kashmir Police Bill, 2013', made public recently, allows the state to declare any area disturbed, proposing setting up "Special Security Zones" where "administrative and development measures" are integrated with police response for "problems of public order and security".

Negating the role of civil administration like a district magistrate in affairs of law and order, the Bill proposes that police be able to set up and arm controversial militia of civilians — as "village defence committees" — and recruit special police officers outside the existing police structure. It also plans a stringent confidentiality clause that could override the existing Right to Information Act in the state.

The Bill was posted on the home department's website on February 15, while Kashmir was under curfew following Afzal Guru's hanging, with a notification inviting suggestions for the next two weeks.

Under the draft legislation, a police officer would be considered "always on duty" and the government as well as the complaints authority deputed to hear cases against him/her would have legal immunity regarding decisions taken by them "in good faith or intended to be done in pursuance of the provisions" of the Bill. In fact, the good faith clause — also the main basis of immunity under the AFSPA — in the draft legislation is vague, doesn't spell out whether the police force itself falls under "government" and is thus open to wider interpretation.

There is also a six-month deadline on entertaining a complaint made against a police official from the "occurrence of the incident".

While the civil administration sees the Bill as a bid to encroach on its powers, activists see it as an attempt to exert control. "The draft police Bill essentially reads as a blueprint on how to exercise control on the populace," said noted human rights lawyer Parvez Imroz. "Within these (Special Security) zones, the attempt is to allow the police and its functionaries, the SPOs, absolute and unaccountable power. It allows for a different Standard Operating Procedure within these zones, without specifying the limits to these powers."

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