Terming the Armed Forces Special Powers Act as an 'essential instrument,' Minister of State for Defence M M Pallam Raju on Tuesday said the army was being 'demonised' and made a 'scapegoat' in Jammu and Kashmir affairs which are mainly linked to the peoples' 'aspirations.'
Raju said the government was conscious that normalcy needed to be restored in all areas of Jammu and Kashmir and 'from that point of view we trying to minimise the use of armed forces.'
He said the army 'is moving away from civilian areas and all the government buildings and we are paying huge compensation for agricultural land.'
Talking about the situation in Kashmir, he said it is 'not normal' and pointed out that infiltration is still continuing although the number of infiltrators has gone down.
"The will to create trouble and foment trouble is still there and that is why the infiltration is still continuing and till that happens I think the security blanket (is needed)," he said in an interaction with mediapersons at the Indian Women's Press Corps in New Delhi.
Raju said the bigger challenge in Kashmir is meeting the aspirations of the people. The army is being 'demonised' in Kashmir although it is not responsible for the situation there.
"Army becomes the scapegoat," he said. "We should not look at it from the point of view of the AFSPA or the army," he said adding the government should focus on bringing about greater opportunity.
"The presence of army is helping that cause. They have contained the situation in certain areas. Their visibility is also less. The recent upsurge is a very grave phenomenon," he said.
Justifying the application of the AFSPA, the minister said it is an 'essential instrument' for forces in strife-torn areas and gives them a 'security blanket.'
He added that 'AFSPA has been an essential instrument for the armed forces to go about confidently...you don't want somebody thrusting human rights violations on our soldiers.'
"So you have to give some amount of security blanket to these guys who are doing a hard job and you really don't know in conflict places where the threat is coming from and how the terror element is going to strike," he said.
The minister, however, added it can be reviewed periodically. Questioned on the continuation of the AFSPA in Jammu and Kashmir, he said, it was essential as 'in order to have the upper hand, you need sufficient security blanket for the armed forces to move in and prevent what they perceive as a threat.'
Raju said, "From our armed forces point of view, a situation may be peaceful but it takes very little time for an area to become infested with terrorists. So you know trying to deal with such an area you need this kind of a blanket. "
He quickly added, "This does not mean that they (the forces) have an free hand to run and do whatever they want. We have a very strict zero tolerance policy about issues of (human rights) and we have been acting very stringently against people who have violated that.'
On providing security to the Commonwealth Games, he said, "There would be sufficient deployment in order to prevent any external threat".
"Any equipment that is needed to be brought in, I think the government of India will do that," he added.
Identifying Maoist violence as a 'grave threat,' Raju said, "We should not underestimate the problem. From the point of view of security, we should be prepared," he added.