New Delhi:: The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear a plea filed by more than 300 army personnel challenging registration of first information reports (FIRs) against them for operations in areas where the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) is in force.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice A.M. Khanwilkar considered arguments from lawyer Aishwarya Bhati that army personnel are being prosecuted for performing duties in disturbed areas, a PTI report said. The case will be heard on 20 August, it added.

ALSO READ: Why AFSPA has been removed from some areas

The plea said FIRs being filed and prosecution of army personnel was against AFSPA, which granted them immunity against prosecution for actions performed during official duties, the report said.

According to army officials, AFSPA is critical for personnel deployed in places like India’s insurgency wracked North-East and places like Kashmir. Human rights activists, however, contend that AFSPA bestows powers on security personnel to prohibit a gathering of five or more people in an area, to use force, and to even open fire, after issuing a warning, if they find a person in violation of the law. Besides this, the security personnel can also arrest a person; enter or search any premises without any warrant—all provisions that can be misused by the security personnel.

The plea admitted to the Supreme Court said that prosecutions of the security personnel results in lowering the morale of the military and paramilitary forces. The plea seems to follow a recent order by the top court which slammed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for alleged delays in registering cases against those security personnel accused of extra-judicial killings in the past two decades.

ALSO READ: AFSPA withdrawn from Meghalaya, parts of Arunachal Pradesh

“If we are to consider cases like the one where Major (Leetul) Gogoi was forced to use a human shield (last year), it must be understood that the army works under hugely pressing circumstances. You cannot isolate one single episode and the entire picture and the troubled zone needs to be seen in its entirety," said a senior army official, who did not wish to be identified.

In 2016, the Supreme Court, in a landmark judgment, said excessive force cannot be used on people even in insurgency-hit areas while hearing a petition on extra-judicial killings.

Defence experts, however, stated that Tuesday’s petition was baseless and void.

“First, when any such case is filed, military authorities have to be aware. Second, there is no question of dilution of AFSPA because it is not being diluted at the moment. Third, AFSPA is an Act of Parliament and only the Parliament alone can dilute or revoke it," said Lt. General (retd) H.S Panag, former Indian army official and defence expert.

Shaswati Das contributed to this story.

Close