In graphics: AFSPA boots strapped

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958, was removed from several districts across Assam, Nagaland and Manipur from April 1, 2022

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Graphic by Tanmoy Chakraborty

From April 1, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958, was removed from several districts across Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. This comes in the backdrop of vociferous demands for the contentious law to be lifted after 13 civilians were killed in Nagaland’s Mon district in December 2021 during a botched security operation—and recommendations from a committee formed thereafter. In support of its move, the Centre cited data showing a 74 per cent drop in militancy incidents in these regions in 2014-2021. AFSPA continues in some Northeast districts as also Jammu & Kashmir, where an army captain was court-martialled on April 3 for his involvement in a fake encounter, killing three innocent civilians.

From April 1, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958, was removed from several districts across Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. This comes in the backdrop of vociferous demands for the contentious law to be lifted after 13 civilians were killed in Nagaland’s Mon district in December 2021 during a botched security operation—and recommendations from a committee formed thereafter. In support of its move, the Centre cited data showing a 74 per cent drop in militancy incidents in these regions in 2014-2021. AFSPA continues in some Northeast districts as also Jammu & Kashmir, where an army captain was court-martialled on April 3 for his involvement in a fake encounter, killing three innocent civilians.

From which areas has AFSPA been lifted?

IN ASSAM, from 23 districts entirely—Baksa, Barpeta, Biswanath, Bongaigaon, Chirang, Darrang, Dhemaji, Dhubri, Goalpara, Hailakandi, Hojai, Kamrup, Kamrup Metropolitan, Karimganj, Kokrajhar, Lakhimpur, Majuli, Morigaon, Nagaon, Nalbari, Sonitpur, South Salamara and Udalguri—and all areas of Cachar district except Lakhipur subdivision

IN NAGALAND, from 15 police station areas in seven districts—Shamator, Tseminyu and Tuensang entirely, and Kohima, Mokokchung, Wokha and Longleng partially. Ironically, AFSPA remains in force in Mon district.

IN MANIPUR, from 15 police stations in the districts of Jiribam, Thoubal, Bishnupur, Kakching, Imphal East and Imphal West

Where in Northeast is AFSPA still applicable?

NINE DISTRICTS IN ASSAM Karbi Anglong, West Karbi Anglong, Dima Hasao, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Charaideo, Sivasagar, Golaghat, Jorhat, and Lakhipur subdivision of Cachar district

ARUNACHAL PRADESH Tirap, Changlang and Longding districts and areas under Namsai and Mahadevpur police stations bordering Assam

NAGALAND, IN NINE DISTRICTS ENTIRELY Chumoukedima, Dimapur, Kiphire, Mon, Niuland, Peren, Phek, Zunheboto and Noklak—and in four districts partially—Kohima, Mokokchung, Wokha and Longleng

WHEN WAS AFSPA ENACTED?

In May 1958, President Rajendra Prasad promulgated the British-era Armed Forces (Special Powers) ordinance to handle insurgency in Nagaland. Four months later, Parliament passed AFSPA into law.

WHEN AND HOW IS AFSPA ENFORCED?

AFSPA comes into force in ‘disturbed areas’. The centre, state governments or the administrator of a Union Territory can declare the whole/ part of the state or UT as a ‘disturbed area’ if “the use of armed forces in aid of the civil power is necessary”. The Union home ministry usually takes the decision to enf­orce AFSPA, though it can also leave the decision to states.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN AFSPA IS ENFORCED?

The Act allows the armed forces to open fire at any person violating the law or carrying arms. It gives them powers to prohibit a gathering of five or more people, arrest individuals without warrants based on “reason­able suspicion”, and search premises without warrants. The Act gives security personnel full legal impunity.

WHY HAS AFSPA BEEN CRITICISED?

Critics say sweeping powers under AFSPA resulted in human rights violations. In 2017, an RTI application found that between 2012 and 2016, 186 complaints of violations, including death and sexual crimes, were registered against armed forces in states with AFSPA. Between 1991 and 2015, 38 requests for the sanction of prosecution under AFSPA were made but were denied in 30 cases. Manipur’s Irom Sharmila went on a hunger strike for 16 years from 2000 after 10 people were killed in Malom. Sometimes the system does crank into motion­, Amshipura being a case in point.

WHAT’S THE CENTRE’S STAND?

In 2005, the Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy Committee, appointed by the Centre to review AFSPA, recom­mended its complete repeal. The Administrative Reforms Commission reiterated it in 2007. In March 2015, the Union government rejected the recommendations.

THE SC’S VIEW

A PIL filed in the Supreme Court claimed that 1,528 extrajudicial killings took place in Manipur between 2000 and 2012. In July 2016, the SC ordered a probe and said AFSPA did not guarantee blanket impunity to armed forces. In 2018, contesting the CBI’s court-appointed probe, 300 army officers moved the SC, saying they had been “persecuted” for performing their duties. The SC rejected the plea.

In which other regions has AFSPA been enforced?

- Jammu and Kashmir continues to be under AFSPA since 1990

- It was in force in Punjab between 1983 and 1997