Missing peace negotiator: SC asks Centre to respond within two weeks

The Supreme Court today granted two weeks time to the Centre to respond to a plea filed by the son of a person, who was mediating between the government and rebel group United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) since 1991 and allegedly went missing two months ago.

Rebati Phukan’s son claimed in the top court that his father went missing on April 22 and quoted ULFA (Independent) chief Paresh Baruah as saying that he may be in custody of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), Military Intelligence or the National Investigation Agency (NIA) as they “have a rivalry amongst them”.

A vacation bench comprising justices U U Lalit and Deepak Gupta allowed the request made by the Centre’s counsel who said they have been recently served with the notice issued to them by the apex court and they would file an affidavit within two weeks.

The counsel appearing for Assam told the bench that they would place certain “confidential documents” in the matter before the court for its perusal.

“Union of India prays and is granted two weeks time to file an affidavit. The counsel appearing for Assam submits that he would like to place certain confidential documents before the court for perusal. Let the matter be called on in the second week of July,” the bench said.

On June 1, the apex court had sought responses from the Centre as well as Assam and Meghalaya governments on the plea which claimed that a doctor reportedly treated Phukan in Meghalaya few days ago.

The petitioner had earlier told the court the Assam chief minister has assured all possible help in finding Phukan but they do not know whether he was in captivity, as various central agencies were involved in the case.

Phukan was working as a peace negotiator between the Centre and ULFA since 1991 to facilitate a dialogue and the plea filed by his son sought a direction to the authorities, including Assam government, to produce him before the court.

He was appointed as a member of the erstwhile People’s Consultative Group (PCG) formed by the ULFA in 2005 to mediate between the rebel group and the Centre.

The petitioner has also urged the top court that the case be transferred to the CBI or any other independent agency or a special investigating team as there was “a loss of faith in the local police” due to its alleged lethargic conduct.

“The petitioner’s father has also been working directly with the Prime Minister’s Office since 1991 for various peace missions between the Centre and ULFA to bring peace in Assam,” the plea has said, adding that Phukan had also “worked in association and cooperated” with the IB till 2016 on various missions in India, Myanmar, Bangladesh and China.

The petitioner claimed that they have come to know that on April 20, Phukan had attended a “secret meeting” with a retired bureaucrat and a lawyer practising in the Assam High Court, during which a “proposal memorandum to negotiate with Paresh Baruah was being discussed and the same was to be presented before Prime Minister Narendra Modi soon”.

The petitioner said that his father went for morning walk on April 22 but did not return to his rented house, after which a complaint was filed at a police station in Guwahati.

He also claimed that on May 4, a CRPF doctor had sent a message to a journalist that Phukan was treated by him at a camp of the paramilitary force in Shillong and he was safe and sound.

It referred to recent media reports in which Paresh Baruah had said that Phukan was negotiating a “fresh proposal for Baruah’s faction with the Centre with help from the interlocutor with the Naga outfit National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), R N Ravi”.

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