Manipur government extends AFSPA in hill districts for 6 months

This is despite the army’s demand for re-imposition of AFSPA in the valley districts to aid anti-insurgency operations; this year, Manipur has seen the highest number of civilian killings since 1999

September 27, 2023 03:58 pm | Updated September 28, 2023 02:56 am IST - New Delhi

Security personnel fire tear gas shells in Imphal on September 27, 2023 as students protest against the “killing” of two missing students by unknown miscreants.

Security personnel fire tear gas shells in Imphal on September 27, 2023 as students protest against the “killing” of two missing students by unknown miscreants. | Photo Credit: PTI

The Manipur government on Wednesday extended the imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in the whole State — except in the jurisdiction of 19 police stations in seven districts of the Imphal Valley — for another six months.

The “disturbed area” status under the Act will remain applicable in all the hill districts, which are dominated by tribal communities. However, since 2022, AFSPA has been gradually withdrawn from the valley districts, which are dominated by the Meitei community, due to a “significant improvement” in the security situation.

The State government’s notification maintaining this “status quo” is applicable from October 1. It comes despite the army’s demand for the re-imposition of AFSPA in the valley districts, arguing that its absence had hampered operations against insurgent groups. After a lull of many years, these groups are said to have regained a foothold in the State during the current wave of ethnic violence. 

Resurgent terror outfits

The insurgent groups, mostly operating from Myanmar, advocate the secession of Manipur from India. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) registered a suo-motu case on July 19 to investigate a transnational conspiracy by the Myanmar-based leadership of these terror outfits to wage a war against the government by “exploiting the current ethnic unrest.” 

At least 175 people have been killed since ethnic violence between the majority Meitei and the tribal Kuki people erupted in the State on May 3. This is the highest number of civilians who have been killed in the State since 1999, though as many as 158 people were killed in 2005.

‘One district, one force’

The State government is now mulling a “one district, one force” deployment of security forces, for better operations. Other than the State police, around 40,000 Central security forces, including the army, have been deployed in the State.

The notification by the Manipur government said that detailed assessment of the ground situation could not be done as “the sister security agencies are preoccupied in maintenance of law and order.”

‘Sensitive matter’

“Further, it will be premature to arrive at any conclusion or decision on such sensitive matter without detailed assessment; thereby not appropriate to review the ‘Disturbed Area’ status of the State at the moment,” it said, adding that the “issue of declaration of ‘disturbed area’ status is very sensitive and may likely attract public criticism and resistance if proper care is not taken”.

“Keeping in view of above and the overall law and order situation in the State and the capability of the State machineries, the State Government has decided to maintain status quo on the present disturbed area status in the State of Manipur excluding the areas falling under the 19 police stations,” the notification said.

The 1958 law gives unbridled power to the army and the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) deployed in “disturbed areas” to kill anyone acting in contravention of the law; to arrest people and search any premises without a warrant; and protection from prosecution and legal suits without the Union government’s sanction.

AFSPA withdrawal

Since 1981, AFSPA has been applicable in Manipur, a former Union Territory which attained Statehood in 1972. AFSPA also existed in the Naga-dominated areas of the erstwhile UT of Manipur since 1958.

However, the provisions of the Act were withdrawn from the Imphal Municipality area in 2004. In April 2022, AFSPA was removed from 15 police station areas in six districts, and from April 1, 2023, the disturbed area notification was withdrawn from four other police stations. So far, the 19 police station limits in the seven valley districts of Manipur have been removed from the ambit of the ‘disturbed area’ notification under AFSPA.

Both the State and Union governments can issue notifications regarding AFSPA. Currently, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs has issued “disturbed area” notifications only for Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. The notifications for Manipur and Assam have been issued by their respective State governments.

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