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Home Ministry panel on AFSPA removal from Nagaland misses its deadline

It was formed in the wake of a growing civilian anger against December 4 botched ambush by Army unit

February 22, 2022 09:52 pm | Updated February 23, 2022 09:40 am IST - New Delhi

A file photo of Nagas protesting against the AFSPA in Mon district.

A file photo of Nagas protesting against the AFSPA in Mon district. | Photo Credit: AP

A committee constituted by the Union Home Ministry in December to study the withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act or AFSPA from Nagaland, slated to submit a report within 45-days as claimed by Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, is yet to conclude its findings.

The panel was formed in the wake of a growing civilian anger against the botched ambush by an elite armed forces unit that led to the killing of 13 civilians at Oting in Nagaland’s Mon district on December 4.

The six-member committee headed by the Registrar General of India (RGI) Vivek Joshi made a solitary visit to the State in January. Though Mr. Rio claimed on December 26 that the panel has 45-days (by February 9) to submit the report, the Home Ministry’s order accessed by The Hindu says the committee is to make “suitable recommendations” within three months (March 26).

T.R. Zeliang of the Naga People’s Front (NPF) and former Chief Minister of Nagaland said the committee has sought an extension for three-months but is likely to miss the extended deadline as well.

Mr. Zeliang who issued a joint statement with Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio announcing the constitution of the committee on December 26 told The Hindu that their demand is for removal of AFSPA from Nagaland, except areas along the international boundary with Myanmar and inter-State boundaries with Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.

“Repealing of AFSPA cannot be done by the State government, it has to be done by Parliament…..the process will take time. We are demanding and conveyed to the Union government that except international border and inter-State border, the AFSPA should be removed from the entire State,” Mr. Zeliang said. He said they were expecting to meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah after the Assembly elections in Manipur and Uttar Pradesh were over.

The issue has made a resonance in Manipur where Assembly elections are to be held in two-phases on February 27 and March 3.

The NPF is an ally of the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP)–led coalition government in Manipur and is also a constituent of the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP)–led government in Nagaland of which the BJP is also a part of. On February 16, the NPF and the NDPP shared stage at an election rally in Manipur’s Naga dominated Senapati district where the NPF and the BJP are fighting elections independently.

The announcement of the constitution of the committee was made by the Nagaland CM in Kohima on December 26, though the meeting chaired by Mr. Shah was held at North Block on December 23. Mr. Rio said in a press conference the committee will submit its report in 45-days adding that that it will look into the withdrawal of the AFSPA from not only Nagaland but in the entire northeast.

Significantly the Opposition-less Nagaland Assembly passed a resolution on December 20 demanding repeal of the AFSPA and an apology from the “appropriate authority” for the botched Army operation.

The Home Ministry is yet to issue any official statement on the subject nor it has specified the terms of reference of the committee.

The Hindu filed a Right to Information (RTI) application to know the terms of reference, composition and the date the committee of officers expected to submit its report.

The Ministry replied that “it is not possible to reply to your RTI application” as “disclosure of information will prejudicially affect the security of state”.

However, a copy of the order accessed by The Hindu says “the terms of reference of the committee shall be to review the application of AFSPA in Nagaland and make suitable recommendations within a period of three [3] months.”

The AFSPA that has been in force in the northeast since 1958 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 Central government’s sanction.

The December 26 joint letter issued by Mr. Rio, Mr. Zeliang and Y. Patton, Nagaland Deputy CM and who is from the BJP, said the Army unit involved in the Oting incident will face disciplinary proceedings and the identified persons who will face the enquiry will be placed under suspension with immediate effect. Mr. Zeliang said none of the other demands made in the letter have been complied with yet.

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