The Union Home Ministry has considerably reduced the “disturbed areas” under the Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act (AFSPA) in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland, Home Minister Amit Shah announced on Thursday.
The order, effective from April 1, would be applicable for six months.
“In a significant step, GoI under the decisive leadership of PM Shri @NarendraModi Ji has decided to reduce disturbed areas under Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the States of Nagaland, Assam and Manipur after decades,” Mr. Shah tweeted.
He added, “Reduction in areas under AFSPA is a result of the improved security situation and fast-tracked development due to the consistent efforts and several agreements to end insurgency and bring lasting peace in North East by PM @narendramodi government.”
A Ministry official said, “The areas under the AFSPA have been considerably reduced in these three States; it has not been completely removed.”
The Ministry constituted a committee on December 26 last to study if the AFSPA could be withdrawn from some areas in Nagaland in the wake of growing civilian anger against a botched ambush by an elite armed forces unit that led to the killing of 13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The six districts and 15 police stations from where the AFSPA has been revoked in the State are: Imphal West (Imphal, Lamphel, City, Singjamei, Sekmai, Lamsang,Patsoi), Imphal East (Porompat, Heingang, Lamlai Irilbung), Thoubal,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.
On March 7, Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla wrote to the Chief Secretaries of Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur seeking their views on the need to continue the disturbed areas declaration in the wake of the improved security situation.
Mr. Shah held a detailed discussion with the Chief Ministers of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland earlier this month. Mr. Bhalla held a videoconference with the Chief Secretaries of Manipur and Assam on March 22 after which the proposal of reduction in the disturbed areas in the two States was approved by the Home Minister.
Welcoming the decision, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said, “With the partial withdrawal, all the lower [western], central and northern districts of Assam are now free from the AFSPA. The Army has already withdrawn its camps from various areas. Although the Army will not be deployed for counter-insurgency, it will be active in intelligence-gathering and other activities.”
Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh told The Hindu that the decision was taken by the Union Home Ministry based on the improved peace situation in the State in the past five years.
Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio said in a tweet, “This is a significant development towards bringing stability, security & prosperity to the North East region.”
H.K. Zhimomi, president of Naga Hoho, the apex tribal body of Nagas, stated, “We have been asking for the removal of the AFSPA from the entire northeast, not partially. Things would have been different had there been no ceasefire. The partial withdrawal makes no sense when a ceasefire is on. Today’s announcement is yet another message that the Government of India cannot be trusted even if it gives assurance in black and white. This is why the Indo-Naga peace process is not progressing after 24 years.”
Uprising in Naga Hills
The law first came into effect in 1958 to deal with the uprising in the Naga Hills, followed by the insurgency in Assam. It gives unbridled power to the armed forces and the Central Armed Police Forces deployed in “disturbed areas” to kill anyone acting in contravention of law, arrest and search any premises without a warrant and protection from prosecution and legal suits without the Central government’s sanction.
Currently, the Union Home Ministry issues periodic “disturbed area” notification to extend the AFSPA only for Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, where it is applicable in the districts of Tirap, Changlang, Longding and areas falling under Namsai and Mahadevpur police stations bordering Assam.
The notification for Manipur and Assam is issued by the State governments. Tripura revoked the Act in 2015 and Meghalaya was under the AFSPA for 27 years, until it was revoked by the Ministry from April 1, 2018. The Act was implemented in a 20-km area along the border with Assam. Jammu and Kashmir has a separate J&K Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1990.