Recusal demand: SC calls out bluff

The Supreme Court’s dismissal of a plea of some retired and serving army officers for recusal of Justices Madan B Lokur and UU Lalit from hearing cases relating to fake encounters in Manipur was expected. It is doubtful if even those who made the plea believed that there was a genuine ground for the demand or that it would succeed. The intention was perhaps to put pressure on the judges. The court had ordered a CBI probe into 1,528 cases of alleged fake encounter killings of civilians by the army and police personnel. The group of 350 army officers, who are facing charges in the cases, also do not want the cases to be monitored by the court. The excuse for making the demand was a question by the court to the CBI whether it was “allowing murderers to roam the streets of Imphal”. This was after it was found that the agency had failed to arrest 14 persons who had been charge-sheeted by it. 

The officers had argued that the court’s observations gave the impression that it was biased against them. The central government also supported the plea for recusal and told the court that the enquiry and the cases would hurt the morale of the armed forces. The government told the court that the officers “did not understand why they were asked to face trial in cases which are decades old’’. This is a strange argument because a crime does not cease to be a crime with the passage of time. It is actually the duty of the government, the law enforcement machinery and the courts to ensure that justice is done even if the cases are old. The government should not have supported the army personnel and should have been on the side of the victims. 

The court said it was unfortunate that “a bogey of demoralisation is being raised’’ when the uniformed forces “can hardly be demoralised by observations made by anybody’’. The court also pointed out that the recusal of the judges at this stage did not make any sense because it was only monitoring the investigation of the cases by the CBI. The court did well to remind the armed forces that respect for human rights is an integral part of their commitment to duty. The Manipur encounter cases have raised serious questions about the conduct of the security forces in conflict areas and the ability of the State to deal with human rights violations effectively in such situations. It is likely that there will be more attempts to undermine the investigation and the cases, but the system will hopefully be able to defeat them.

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Recusal demand: SC calls out bluff

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