The centre today asked a Supreme Court bench to recuse itself from hearing the Manipur encounter cases on the grounds that one of the judges had termed certain security personnel as "murderers", thereby vitiating the proceedings. Attorney General KK Venugopal said the remark has affected the morale of the country's armed forces.
A PIL pertaining to 1,528 allegedly fake encounter cases by 350 security personnel in the northeastern state from 2000 to 2012 is being heard by a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and UU Lalit. It is claimed that Justice Lokur had castigated CBI Director on July 31 with these words: "According to you, there are 14 murderers in these cases and they are loafing around Manipur freely. You have not arrested any of them. What happens to society? If somebody commits rape, what is there to recover? So you (the CBI) will allow him to roam free?"
A petition filed by the security personnel has termed the remark "unbecoming of a Supreme Court judge", and objected to Justice Lokur comparing them to rapists. They have also asked the judge to recuse himself from the case to ensure a fair trial.
Mr Venugopal told the court that more Armed forces personnel die in troubled areas of the state than insurgents, and there was fear in their minds. "The court can make mistakes too," he said. "Yesterday, the Supreme Court corrected itself on adultery. The court also corrected its mistake on the privacy issue."
The bench clarified that the remark was not aimed at any particular individual, but was only responding to the CBI Director on issue of charge sheets. The petitioner has opposed the Centre, and asked the bench to continue hearing the case.
A petition filed by the security personnel on August 14 had held that exposing them to CBI and police prosecution in matters concerning operational encounters will endanger "national security". They also asked the court to not dilute the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), so none of them are harassed through arrests or criminal proceedings for actions carried out as part of their duties. Besides this, they wanted a set of guidelines aimed at protecting the "bona fide action of soldiers" under the law.
The petition was filed in the aftermath of police filing FIRs against serving Army officers in disturbed areas such as Jammu & Kashmir and Manipur.
AFSPA, which grants special powers to the armed forces in disturbed areas, has often been termed by rights activists as a draconian law aimed at oppressing the people.
(With inputs from agencies)
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