18th JANUARY 2017
Answer questions in NOT MORE than 200 words each. Content of the answer is more important than its length.
Links are provided for reference. You can also use the Internet fruitfully to further enhance and strengthen your answers.
GS II: POLITY - STATES
1. Why has economic blockade been imposed in Manipur? Discuss its consequences in the context of the Assembly elections?
Blockade numbs Manipur:
- The dates for the election to the Manipur Legislative Assembly have been announced.
- It is facing indefinite economic blockade by the United Naga Council (UNC), a civil organisation in Manipur which claims to be the apex body of all Naga tribes in the State.
- The blockade is now two and a half months old and Manipur continues to reel under the effect of shortages of many essential commodities, petrol and cooking gas in particular. Daily wage earners are the hardest hit. Demonetisation has made their trauma even worse.
- Thankfully, Imphal valley is a fertile, rice-growing region, ensuring that the people have not gone hungry. Had it been otherwise, there would have been mayhem on the streets by now.
Reason for the blockade:
- The UNC’s blockade began on November 1 in anticipation of the Manipur government giving in to the long-standing demand for upgrading the SADAR and Jiribam subdivisions to full-fledged districts.
- The state decided to defy the UNC’s coercive protest, and created not just the two districts the UNC was opposed to, but seven by splitting seven of the State’s nine districts.
- The UNC considers four of the seven split districts to be a part of the ancestral Naga homeland and was quick to accuse the Manipur government of splitting this homeland, although, as the government contends, how districts can split people is incomprehensible.
- This is particularly so because the Assembly and parliamentary constituencies have remained untouched.
Assembly elections due:
- The Manipur Assembly has 60 seats.
- Of these, 40 represent the valley inhabited predominantly by non-tribal Hindu Meiteis; 39 of these are for the general category and one is reserved for Scheduled Castes.
- Twenty seats represent the hills and 19 of these are reserved for Scheduled Tribes. Of the 20 hill seats, Nagas normally hold sway in 11 to 12. The rest are generally won by Kukis and aligned tribes.
- The BJP government at the Centre is holding peace talks with the Naga militant group, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah).
- The Chief Minister and his team in Manipur are on the way to overcome the anti-incumbency burden of having been in power for 15 years continuously.
- Irom Sharmila’s brand new party, the People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA), is also in the fray.
GS III: SECURITY
2. What are the problems faced by the paramilitary forces in India? Elucidate.
Paramilitary forces in India
- There are no less than seven paramilitary forces exist, each created with less parliamentary debate than the previous one.
- These forces are all under the Home Ministry in contrast to the Army, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard which are under the Defence Ministry.
- The Assam Rifles has changed hands between Home, External Affairs and Defence Ministries and is currently under the Home Ministry while under the Defence Ministry’s operational control.
Cases of suicide and fratricide in the armed forces:
- How India treats its armed forces is rarely revealed by soldiers at the lowest ranks.
- Little attention is paid to serious concerns about the systems of military justice. While delays in the judicial system are notorious, delays for the armed forces can turn fatal in the form of suicide and fratricide (also called “fragging” — where a serviceman kills his brothers-in-arms).
- In a written answer before the Rajya Sabha, the Home Minister (MoS) in 2012 said that the reasons for suicide and fratricide amongst paramilitary forces are “…personal/domestic problems, illness, mental stress, alcoholic dependence, marital affairs and financial crisis of concerned individual.”
- The Minister also stated that better dispute resolution, communication facilities in field areas, yoga, and increased interaction between jawans and officers were part of the 14 measures undertaken to boost morale.
- Answers in the Rajya Sabha and to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, from 2003-2013 (data for some years are missing), state that there have been at least 1,666 suicides in the armed forces and 109 cases of fratricide.
Food quality for armed personnel:
- “An army marches on its stomach”, a quote famously attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte, was unwittingly brought into the spotlight by Border Security Force (BSF) constable Tej Bahadur Yadav’s videos about tasteless dal and half-burnt parathas.
Case of 1985:
- In 1985, Signalman Ranjit Thakur refused food while serving 28 days’ imprisonment for overriding the hierarchy and making representations directly to senior officers about ill treatment. A summary court martial was conducted for his act of disobeying the order to eat. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year rigorous imprisonment, dismissal from the Army, and disqualification from civilian service.
- Fortunately for him, the Supreme Court found this sentence to be grossly disproportionate and reinstated him with full pay and benefits.
Stepmotherly treatment for paramilitary forces:
- The BSF has faced existential questions ever since it sought legislative recognition. Introducing the Border Security Force Bill, 1968, the then Home Minister, Yashwantrao Chavan, told the Rajya Sabha: “Popularly it is called Border Security Police, but its function is not policing, it is something more than that. Though it is functioning on the borders, it is not the Army. The task of this Force is such that it is something between the Army and the Police Force.”
- Opponents of the Bill had asked why there was nothing in the Bill requiring the force to serve on the “border”, or why a central police force was necessary when police was a State subject.
- A concern amongst even the Bill’s supporters was that there was a disparity between the Army and the BSF in terms of pay, service conditions, grievance redress mechanisms and deployments to forward areas. Rejecting these concerns and refusing to refer the Bill to a Parliamentary Select Committee, the Bill was passed and independent India’s first paramilitary force was born.
- The concerns of stepmotherly treatment in service conditions exist even today across all paramilitary forces in India as later videos by other servicemen have demonstrated.
Armed Forces Tribunal
- The military justice system does not believe that it is required to be equal for all and creates peculiar distinctions between the Army, Navy and Air Force on the one hand and the paramilitary forces and the Coast Guard on the other.
- The Armed Forces Tribunal came into being in 2007, 25 years after the Supreme Court made scathing remarks about the military justice system in Lt. Col. Prithi Pal Singh Bedi v. Union of India (1982) for not having even one layer of judicial scrutiny, for unchecked command influence in decision-making, and for absence of recorded reasons in final judgments.
- In 1999, the Law Commission’s 169th Report stated that disciplinary and service matters required quick resolution and proposed a special tribunal for the military and paramilitary forces.
- However, the Armed Forces Tribunal Bill was steered through Parliament only by the Defence Ministry, leaving paramilitary forces, even the Assam Rifles and the Coast Guard, outside the tribunal’s purview.
- Despite court martial systems within the military being reformed and judicial scrutiny now being available, paramilitary forces continue to follow a court martial-like system called the Security Force Court with less legal safeguards than those found inadequate by the Supreme Court.
- Yet, like in court martial proceedings, penalties including the death sentence can be imposed.
- With no process of appeal other than statutory petitions, often before the Home Minister, the only recourse left is expensive and time-consuming writ petitions.
- Even here, the fundamental rights of armed forces personnel are expressly limited under Article 33 of the Constitution which makes approaching civilian judicial systems a challenge.