The Supreme Court on Tuesday rapped the army asking why it had maintained silence over allegations of rape and murder against its personnel in Manipur and questioned the state government for not proceeding with these cases against them.
The apex court asked the Manipur government to explain whether it was a "sheer helplesness" on their part or a "tacit understanding" that they would not proceed against the army personnel despite there being serious allegations of rape and murder against them.
"You may have two alleged rapists. Why you have kept quiet," a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and U U Lalit asked Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, who was appearing for the army and the Assam Rifles.
Responding to the query, the Attorney General said, "These are allegations only. The question is whether rape was committed by the army personnel".
The court posed this query to Rohatgi after it was told that there were allegations against two army personnel that they had raped a 15-year-old girl in 2003 following which she had committed suicide.
The bench was also told that an inquiry commission report had also indicted some officials of Assam Rifles in a separate case in which a woman was allegedly sexually assaulted before being shot dead in Manipur.
When Rohatgi said an inquiry was conducted on the allegations of rape, the bench shot back, "We would want to know what kind of inquiry you have conducted. We would like to see the inquiry report also".
The Attorney General also said that state government had set up commission to inquire into these matters but it had no power to do so.
During the hearing, the counsel appearing for Manipur told the bench that "in cases where personnel of armed forces are involved, we have stopped from proceeding ahead".
To this, the bench said, "The reports clearly suggest that the girl was subjected to rape. You are creating a stonewall and you do not want to break that stonewall. You have not tried anything. You have not asked the army to handover the custody of the alleged culprits".
"Is it just a sheer helplesness or is it a tacit understanding that you will not proceed against the army personnel. You see, she was a young girl and there are no allegations that she was an insurgent. She was working in a farm where two people came and raped her. She committed suicide and you are saying what can we do. Are you saying that let army people come and rape," the bench said.
The court is hearing a PIL seeking probe and compensation in alleged 1,528 extra-judicial killings in Manipur from 2000 to 2012 by security forces and police.
During the hearing, the court was told that there were 265 cases of deaths which have to be examined and there were various reports of the commission of inquiry in which serious allegations have been levelled against armed forces personnel.
Dealing with a murder case of a woman, who was allegedly subjected to sexual assault by army personnel, the bench asked the Centre as to whether it was their case that "alright some army personnel have committed the murder, so what".
The Centre's counsel said it was not their case and they have also given Rs 10 lakh compensation to the victim's family as per the apex court's order.
"Don't you want to inquire even if somebody makes such allegations against your people (army personnel)? Are you saying whatever was done was legitimate," the bench asked.
Responding to this, the Centre's counsel said, "It was a bonafide military operation based on intelligence input. The army is not averse to conducting an inquiry."
He claimed that allegation of sexual assault was not substantiated during the inquiry and it was found that there was some violation of laid down procedure in conducting the operation.
On the issue of payment of compensation by the Centre, the bench asked whether the government was supposed to pay Rs 10 lakh as compensation for violation of procedure.
"Government of India do not have so much money that they can say okay, there is some violation of procedure, so we will pay the compensation. Rs 10 lakh is a big amount," the bench said.
The apex court had earlier asked the Centre to segregate the cases related to the armed forces from the list of 265 incidents of extra-judicial killings in Manipur, which it would deal with first on a plea seeking probe into such alleged fake encounter killings.
It had also asked the Manipur government to distinguish among these the cases related to the state police.
There are 35 matters related to commission of inquiry and 37 cases of judicial inquiry or high court matters. Similarly, 23 matters of National Human Rights Commission would be heard along with 170 cases based on written complaints.
The Centre had said that out of the 282 cases, which were referred to it for verification, 70 matters were found to be related to the army and Assam Rifles while the rest may be concerning the state police.
In July last year, the apex court had directed a thorough probe into the alleged fake encounter killings in Manipur saying that the use of "excessive or retaliatory force" by the armed forces or police was not permissible in 'disturbed areas' under the controversial Armed Force Special Powers Act.