The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has maintained a studied silence on the constitution of a committee on withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) from Nagaland.
The panel’s terms of reference are yet to be notified and publicised. It will be headed by Registrar General of India Vivek Joshi and comprise State government officials.
The committee formation announcement was made by Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio in Kohima on December 26 even though the meeting chaired by Home Minister Amit Shah was held at North Block on December 23.
Mr. Rio stated in the press conference that the committee would submit a report in 45 days. It would look into the AFSPA withdrawal from not only Nagaland but in the entire northeast. “The committee will start lifting AFSPA where it is recommended, but not only in Nagaland but the whole of northeastern States.”
The MHA has not responded to this claim so far.
A stumbling block
After the December 4 civilian killings in the botched operation by the Army in Nagaland’s Mon district, there was an assessment by security agencies that AFSPA has emerged as a stumbling block to the Naga peace agreement. Various Naga insurgent groups such as the Isaak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) have been demanding the revocation of AFSPA from the region and it is one of the main talking points of the final peace agreement. The NSCN-IM has been demanding a separate flag and constitution for the Nagas and the talks have been delayed on this front. It is the largest Naga group that signed a framework agreement with the Centre in 2015 to find a solution to the Naga political issue.
A senior government official noted that the Mon killings had given a fillip to the demand.
The seven Naga National Political Groups (NNPG), who were also made stakeholders to the negotiations in 2017, have also demanded the removal of AFSPA.
An NNPG member told The Hindu that Centre had agreed to revoke AFSPA once the final agreement was signed. “The Government of India has in principle agreed during the talks that AFSPA will be removed. It is very much part of our agenda,” he observed.
The senior government official said Nagaland Assembly elections are due in 2023 and the government hoped to sign the final agreement before that.
“People here have waited long for peace. Eventually AFSPA will have to be revoked, if not in one go, then may be in phases from some areas,” said the official.
Following the Mon killings, widespread protests erupted in Nagaland and adjoining areas.
The NSCN-IM said in a statement on Sunday that it “is one of the most unfortunate incidents of the Indo-Naga ceasefire signed in 1997.”
Nagaland has been declared a “disturbed area“ by the MHA under AFSPA, which empowers security forces to conduct operations anywhere and arrest anyone without prior notice. AFSPA is in force in the northeast since 1958 and Nagaland acquired Statehood in 1963.
Both the Centre (MHA) and the State governments have the concurrent powers to issue notification under Section 3 of AFSPA.
For instance, the notification extending AFSPA in Manipur, right from the 1980s has been issued by the Government of Manipur.
The MHA issues “disturbed area” only for Nagaland and in Arunachal Pradesh in the districts of Tirap, Changlang, Longding and areas falling under the Namsai and Mahadevpur police stations bordering Assam.
In the case of Assam, the MHA was issuing the “disturbed area” order till 2017. Since then, the State has been renewing the notification every six months. The latest one was on September 10.
AFSPA was revoked in Tripura by the State government in May 2015, after being in force since February 1997.
The MHA revoked the Act from Meghalaya from April 1, 2018.