The most disturbing developments most often happen on the sly. The state government is preparing to approve Jammu and Kashmir Police Draft Bill-2013 that nearly brings the state police force at par with the central armed forces deployed here in terms of the legal impunity available to them. The Bill, if approved, will empower the state police like the controversial and much resented Armed Foces Special Powers Act (AFSPS) grants near absolute impunity to the Indian army and the other paramilitary forces deployed in the politically volatile state.
The proposed legislation says police personnel will be considered always on duty — a controversial Supreme Court judgement injected this into the already draconian AFSPA – and the government can declare any enclave within the state a disturbed area and set up special security zones. The most disturbing part of the legislation in process is that it empowers the director general of police to set up more village defense committees, of which there are already many. The so-called defense committees are government-armed militia, mostly composed of Hindus in the Pirpanjal region of the state. The controversial militia have been accused of crimes against the people in the past and demands of disbanding them have existed for as long as they have.
The dreadful proposed legislation was brought in by the National Conference led government in 2013. The incumbent chief minister, whose party was out of power then, had bitterly criticized the Bill saying, the state already had the “dubious distinction of a police state and that the proposed Bill would actually convert it to a lawless state.” She went further, raising an alrm: “It is an attempt to institutionalise the dreaded Ikhwan culture in the state.” The chief minister is now likely to preside over the Bill becoming a law!
The manner in which the Bill was put up for public comments was dubious in the first place. It was uploaded on to the government website when Kashmir valley was under curfew and other communication curbs were in place. This perhaps allowed people in Jammu region of the state to comment freely. But later almost every constituent of the society in the Kashmir division and beyond, including those groups opposed to Indian rule of Kashmir and prominent lawyers vehemently opposed the proposed law. It is not clear whether the Bill is being sought to approved in its original shape or any amendments have been made. Before expanding the already existing legal impunity available to the government forces the incumbent dispensation should debate it afresh, lest an unnecessary trigger for civil strife might ignite.