AFSPA Has Been Reduced From Assam, Manipur & Nagaland
In a historic decision, the Modi Government announced that areas covered under Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from large swathes of Nagaland, Assam and Manipur, the first time in years that the controversial anti-terror legislation has been pulled back at such a scale in India’s northeastern region, will be reduced after decades. The order, effective from April 1, would be applicable for six months.
AFSPA, which has been called draconian, gives sweeping powers to the armed forces. For example, it allows them to open fire, even causing death, against any person in contravention to the law or carrying arms and ammunition, and gives them powers to arrest individuals without warrants, on the basis of “reasonable suspicion”, and also search premises without warrants. It can be imposed by the Centre or the Governor of a state, on the state or parts of it, after these areas are declared “disturbed’’ under Section 3. The Northeast has lived under the shadow of AFSPA for nearly 60 years, creating a feeling of alienation from the rest of the country. The move is expected to help demilitarise the region; it will lift restrictions of movements through check points and frisking of residents.
The Ministry constituted a committee on December 26 last to study if the AFSPA could be withdrawn from some areas in Nagaland in the wake of growing civilian anger against a botched ambush by an elite armed forces unit that led to the killing of 13 civilians at Oting in Mon district on December 4. In the State, the AFSPA was being removed from the jurisdiction of 15 police stations in seven districts but would remain active in 57 police stations in 13 districts. The decision was taken based on the committee’s recommendation. However, the AFSPA will continue to be effective in Mon district.
“The disturbed area notification is in force in the whole of Nagaland from 1995. The Central government has accepted the recommendation of the committee for withdrawal of the AFSPA in a phased manner,” the Ministry said. In Assam, the AFSPA was being removed completely from 23 districts and one district would be covered partially under it. In the State, the Act will remain effective in Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Sivasagar, Charaideo, Jorhat, Karbi Anglong, West Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao districts and the Lakhipur sub-division of Cachar district.
In Manipur, 15 police station areas in six districts of Manipur would be excluded from the disturbed area notification but the law would remain effective in 82 police stations in 16 districts. The six districts and 15 police stations from where the AFSPA has been revoked in the State are: Imphal West (Imphal, Lamphel, City, Singjamei, Sekmai, Lamsang,Patsoi), Imphal East (Porompat, Heingang, Lamlai Irilbung), Thoubal, Bishnupur, Kakching and Jiribam.
In Arunachal Pradesh, the status quo remained – the AFSPA would remain in force in two police stations of Namsai and Mahadevapur and three districts of Tirap, Changlang, Langding.
The government has reduced Afspa in phases from other states as well since 2015. For example, in 2015, Afspa was in force in three districts of Arunachal Pradesh, a 20km belt along the Assam border, and in 16 police station areas in nine other districts of the state.
Currently, Afspa is applicable only in three districts, and two police station areas in one other district of Arunachal Pradesh. It was completely removed from Tripura in 2015 and Meghalaya in 2018.
In 2000, the activist Irom Sharmila began a hunger strike that would continue for 16 years against AFSPA in Manipur. In 2004, the then central government set up a five-member committee under former Supreme Court Justice Jeevan Reddy, which submitted its report in 2005 recommending the repeal of AFSPA, calling it “highly undesirable”, and saying it had become a symbol of oppression. Subsequently, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, headed by Veeerapa Moily, endorsed these recommendations. Former home secretary G K Pillai too supported the repeal of AFSPA. Former home minister P Chidambaram has said that the Act, if not repealed, should at least be amended.
Around 7,000 militants surrendered in the last few years in the region. In comparison to 2014, there was a reduction of 74% in militancy incidents in 2021. Similarly, deaths of security personnel and civilians also came down by 60% and 84% respectively during this period, said the ministry. According to data available on the home ministry’s website, insurgency related incidents reduced from 1,749 in 1999 to only 209 in 2021 in the entire northeastern region.
There was no response from the Army on the development. The removal of AFSPA will bring relief and satisfaction in the people of north-east. There has been a feeling that insurgency should be controlled but human rights violations should not take place, but because of AFSPA there was no trust between the people and the army. If there is trust, then the development activities could also be better implemented.