The story so far: On March 31, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced the reduction of “disturbed areas” under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland with effect from April 1. The decision was based on the recommendations of a committee the Ministry had constituted on December 26, 2021, to study the possibility of withdrawing the AFSPA from areas in Nagaland in the wake of public anger against a botched ambush by an elite unit of the Army that led to the killing of 13 civilians at Oting in Mon district on December 4.
How did the AFSPA come about?
The British colonial government had on August 15, 1942, promulgated the Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance to suppress the Quit India movement. It was the foundation for four ordinances, including one for the “Assam disturbed areas” invoked in 1947 to deal with Partition-induced internal security challenges. The Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act, 1958, followed the Assam Disturbed Areas Act of 1955 to deal with the uprising in the Naga Hills and adjoining areas. The Act was replaced by the AFSPA for wider application. A similar Act specific to Jammu and Kashmir was enacted in 1990.
How is the AFSPA imposed?
Section 3 of the AFSPA empowers the Governor of a State and the administrator of a Union Territory (UT) to declare an area “disturbed” and issue an official notification in The Gazette of India to give the Centre the authority to deploy the “armed forces in aid of the civil power”. A government considers an area “disturbed” if it perceives a threat to “public peace and tranquility, by reason of differences or disputes between members of different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities.” The Act is said to give unbridled power to the armed forces and the Central Armed Police Forces deployed in “disturbed areas” to kill anyone acting in contravention of the law, arrest and search any premises without a warrant and protection from prosecution and legal suits without the Central government’s sanction. It says any commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or any other person of equivalent rank in the armed forces can for the maintenance of public order “fire upon or otherwise use force” after giving such due warning as he may consider necessary. The situation is reviewed periodically for extension of the AFSPA. While the Assam and Manipur governments issue a notification in this regard, the Ministry of Home Affairs does it for Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, where it is applicable in Tirap, Changlang, Longding and areas falling under Namsai and Mahadevpur police stations bordering Assam. Once declared “disturbed”, a region has to maintain the status quo for a minimum of three months according to The Disturbed Areas (Special Courts) Act, 1976.
How is the AFSPA viewed?
The AFSPA has often been under the scanner for giving the armed forces personnel the “license to kill”. Rights groups have panned it as a tool of State abuse, oppression and discrimination while the United Nations has often pointed out it has no place in Indian democracy. Various State governments have over the years yielded to public demand and changed political scenarios to revoke the AFSPA. Punjab was the first to do so in 1997 followed by Tripura in 2015. In April 2018, Meghalaya withdrew the Act from a 20-km area along the 885-km boundary with Assam. Manipur had in 2004 withdrawn AFSPA from seven Assembly constituencies straddling the State capital Imphal following unrest over the custodial death of a woman deemed an extremist.
What triggered the recent decision?
Since assuming power in 2014, the Narendra Modi government has been claiming to have tamed extremism in the Northeast, unlike the past governments, with a series of peace deals, including the Framework Agreement with the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland. This, many pointed out, made the AFSPA redundant. But the trigger for the decision was the revival of the anti-AFSPA demand across the Northeast following the killing of 13 people in Nagaland’s Oting village on December 4, 2021, in a botched ambush by the armed forces.
In Assam, the AFSPA has been removed completely from 23 districts and partially from the Cachar district.
The Act has been revoked from 15 police station areas in six districts of Manipur but continues in 82 police stations in 16 districts.
In Nagaland, the AFSPA has been removed from areas under 15 police stations in seven districts but remains active in areas under 57 police stations in 13 districts.
The AFSPA continues in Mon, the district that put the focus back on the “draconian law”. This has not gone down well with the Naga Hoho, the apex body of various Naga tribes.
- On March 31, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced the reduction of “disturbed areas” under the AFSPA in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland with effect from April 1.
- Section 3 of the AFSPA empowers State and UTs to declare an area “disturbed”. The Act is said to give unbridled power to the armed forces in “disturbed areas” to kill anyone acting in contravention of the law and to arrest anyone without a warrant.
- The decision was triggered after the revival of the anti-AFSPA demand following the killing of 13 people in Nagaland’s Oting village on December 4, 2021, in a botched ambush by the armed forces.