The Supreme Court passed its judgment in General Officer Commanding (Army) vs. CBI on May 01, 2012. The case addressed the issue of need for sanction to prosecute Army officers under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The case dealt with two instances of alleged fake encounters. Five people were killed by the Army in Assam in a counter insurgency operation in 1994. Another five people were killed in Jammu and Kashmir in March, 2000 in an encounter. In both cases, it was alleged that the Army officers had staged fake encounters. In both instances, the CBI was directed to investigate the matter. CBI claimed that the people who were killed were indeed victims of fake encounters. The CBI moved the court to initiate prosecution against the accused Army officers. The officers claimed that they could only be prosecuted with the prior sanction (permission) of the central government. The officers relied on provisions of the AFSPA,1958 and the Armed Forces J & K (Special Powers) Act, 1990 to support their claim. (See Notes for the relevant clauses) These provide that legal proceedings cannot be instituted against an officer unless sanction is granted by the central government. It must be noted that Army officers can be tried either before criminal courts or through court-martial (as prescribed under Sections 125 of the Army Act, 1950). The Army officers had appealed that both procedures require prior sanction of the government. The judgment touches upon various issues. Some of these have been discussed in more detail below:
Is prior sanction required to prosecute army officers for 'any' act committed in the line of duty? The judgment reiterated an earlier ruling. It held that sanction would not be required in 'all' cases to prosecute an official. The officer only enjoys immunity from prosecution in cases when he has ‘acted in exercise of powers conferred under the Act’. There should be 'reasonable nexus' between the action and the duties of the official. The Court cited the following example to highlight this point: If in a raid, an officer is attacked and he retaliates, his actions can be linked to a 'lawful discharge of duty'. Even if there were some miscalculations in the retaliation, his actions cannot be labeled to have some personal motive. The Court held that the AFSPA, or the Armed Forces (J&K) Special Powers Act, empowers the central government to ascertain if an action is 'reasonably connected with the discharge of official duty' and is not a misuse of authority. The courts have no jurisdiction in the matter. In making a decision, the government must make an objective assessment of the exigencies leading to the officer’s actions. At what stage is sanction required? The Court ruled that under the AFSPA, or the Armed Forces (J&K) Special Powers Act, sanction is mandatory. But, the need to seek sanction would only arise at the time of cognizance of the offence. Cognizance is the stage when the prosecution begins. Sanction is therefore not required during investigation. Is sanction required for court-martial? The Court ruled that there is no requirement of sanction under the Army Act, 1950. Hence, if the Army chooses, it can prosecute the accused through court-martial instead of going through the criminal court. The Court noted that the case had been delayed for over a decade and prescribed a time bound course of action. It asked the Army to decide on either of the two options - court martial or criminal court - within the next eight weeks. If the Army decides on proceedings before the criminal court, the government will have three months to determine to grant or withhold sanction. Notes Section 6 of the AFSPA, 1958: "6. Protection to persons acting under Act – No prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government, against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act." Section 7 of the Armed Forces (J&K) Special Powers Act, 1990: "7. Protection of persons acting in good faith under this Act. No prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government, against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act."
Discussion on the first no-confidence motion of the 17th Lok Sabha began today. No-confidence motions and confidence motions are trust votes, used to test or demonstrate the support of Lok Sabha for the government in power. Article 75(3) of the Constitution states that the government is collectively responsible to Lok Sabha. This means that the government must always enjoy the support of a majority of the members of Lok Sabha. Trust votes are used to examine this support. The government resigns if a majority of members support a no-confidence motion, or reject a confidence motion.
So far, 28 no-confidence motions (including the one being discussed today) and 11 confidence motions have been discussed. Over the years, the number of such motions has reduced. The mid-1960s and mid-1970s saw more no-confidence motions, whereas the 1990s saw more confidence motions.
Figure 1: Trust votes in Parliament
Note: *Term shorter than 5 years; **6-year term.
Source: Statistical Handbook 2021, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs; PRS.
The no-confidence motion being discussed today was moved on July 26, 2023. A motion of no-confidence is moved with the support of at least 50 members. The Speaker has the discretion to allot time for discussion of the motion. The Rules of Procedure state that the motion must be discussed within 10 days of being introduced. This year, the no-confidence motion was discussed 13 calendar days after introduction. Since the introduction of the no-confidence motion on July 26, 12 Bills have been introduced and 18 Bills have been passed by Lok Sabha. In the past, on four occasions, the discussion on no-confidence motions began seven days after their introduction. On these occasions, Bills and other important issues were debated before the discussion on the no-confidence motion began.
Figure 2: Members rise in support of the motion of no-confidence in Lok Sabha