AFSPA lifted from parts of Nagaland, Assam and Manipur

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    Recently ,The Union Home Ministry has considerably reduced the “disturbed areas” under the Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act (AFSPA) in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland.

    • AFSPA remains in force in parts of these three states as well as in parts of Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir.
    • The order, effective from April 1, would be applicable for six months.

    Why has AFSPA been withdrawn now?

    • The decision has come as the result of a combination of circumstances.
    • Over the last two decades, various parts of the Northeast have seen a reduction in insurgencies, some of them up to 60 years old. 
    • It is a result of the improved security situation and fast-tracked development due to the consistent efforts.
    • A number of major groups were already in talks with the Indian government, and these talks received traction during the current regime.
      • In Nagaland, all major groups — the NSCN(I-M) and Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) — are at advanced stages of concluding agreements with the government.
      • In Manipur, insurgency as well as heavy militarisation have been on the decline since 2012, when the Supreme Court started hearing a PIL on extra-judicial killings.
      • In Nagaland, the killing of 14 villagers in Oting, Mon, is seen as having had a telling impact on reviving the demand to repeal AFSPA.

                                                              

    Image Courtesy:IE

     

    Why is the decision significant?

    • The Northeast has lived under the shadow of AFSPA for nearly 60 years, creating a feeling of alienation from the rest of the country
    • The move is expected to help demilitarise the region.
    •  It will lift restrictions of movements through checkpoints and frisking of residents.
    • It will also help the Centre calm the anger over the Mon killings in Nagaland

    About the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)

    • It was enacted by the Parliament and approved by the President in 1958.
    • It confers certain special powers on members of the Armed Forces (military forces, air forces operating on the ground as land forces and any other armed forces of the Union (CRPF, BSF, ITBP etc)for carrying out proactive operations against the insurgents in a highly hostile environment. 
      • They have the authority to prohibit a gathering of five or more persons in an area.
    • Provisions:
      • Under Section 3, the Central Government or the Governor of the State or administrator of the Union Territory can declare the whole or part of the State or Union Territory as a disturbed area. 
        • An area can be disturbed due to differences or disputes between members of different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities. 
      • Section 4 gives the Army powers to search premises and make arrests without warrants, to use force even to the extent of causing death, destroy arms/ammunition dumps, fortifications/shelters/hideouts and to stop, search and seize any vehicle.
      • Section 6 stipulates that arrested persons and the seized property are to be made over to the police with the least possible delay.
      • Section 7 offers protection of persons acting in good faith in their official capacity
        • The prosecution is permitted only after the sanction of the Central Government.

    Significance

    • Armed Forces are deployed in counter-insurgency / terrorist operations when all other forces available to the State have failed to bring the situation under control.
    • Armed forces operating in such an environment require certain special powers and protection in the form of an enabling law.
    • Therefore, AFSPA is absolutely essential to combat insurgency in the country and protect the borders.

    Criticism/Concerns 

    • It provides absolute powers to the security personnel without being accounted for.
      •  This leads to various atrocities and human rights violations by security agencies.
    • Critics say the undemocratic act has failed to contain terrorism and restore normalcy in disturbed areas, as the number of armed groups has gone up after the act was established.
      •  Many even hold it responsible for the spiralling violence in areas it is in force.
    • The Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee was set up in 2005 to review Afspa and make recommendations.
      •  It recommended that Afspa should be repealed and the Unlawful Activities Protection Act strengthened to fight militancy. 
    • It has been a controversial one, with human rights groups opposing it as being aggressive. 
    • Terming the AFSPA as a “draconian law”, renowned human rights activist Irom Chanu Sharmila of Manipur had fought for 16 long years till mid-2016, demanding its repeal.
    • It has been alleged that since the 1970s, there have been 1,528 fake encounters in Manipur. 
      • Human rights activists blame AFSPA for the killings, alleging that the law gives blanket protection to the Army and the Manipuri commandos to kill with impunity. 
    • In Nagaland, 60 years of living under the AFSPA regime has had psychological consequences, trauma and alienation of the people

    Checks and balances

    • The Act gives powers to security forces to open fire, this cannot be done without prior warning given to the suspect. 
    • It  says that after apprehension of suspects, the security forces have to hand them over to the local police station within 24 hours. 
    • It says the armed forces must act in cooperation with the district administration and not as an independent body.

    Previous attempts to repeal AFSPA 

    • In 2000, the activist Irom Sharmila began a hunger strike that would continue for 16 years against AFSPA in Manipur.
    •  In 2004, the then central government set up a five-member committee under former Supreme Court Justice Jeevan Reddy, which submitted its report in 2005 recommending the repeal of AFSPA, calling it “highly undesirable”, and saying it had become a symbol of oppression.
      • Subsequently, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, headed by Veeerapa Moily, endorsed these recommendations.
    •  Former home secretary G K Pillai too supported the repeal of AFSPA. Former home minister P Chidambaram has said that the Act, if not repealed, should at least be amended.

    Position of  state governments 

    • The Act gives powers to the central government to unilaterally take the decision to impose AFSPA, this is usually done informally in consonance with the state government.
    •  The Centre takes its decision after having received a recommendation from the state government. There have been instances where the Centre has overruled the state, such as the imposition of AFSPA in Tripura in 1972.

    What has the Supreme Court said about AFSPA?

    • In 2016, the Supreme Court delivered a stinging rebuke to the government over the continuation of AFSPA. 
    • The SC judgement clarified that the notion that the Act provides a free hand to security forces is flawed.
    • Ruling on a petition filed by the ExtraJudicial Execution Victims Families Association (EEVFAM), a representative platform of people in Manipur whose kin have allegedly been killed by security forces, the Court held that due process needs to be followed in civilian complaints reported from areas under the AFSPA and that the Act doesn’t provide blanket immunity to army personnel in anti-insurgency operations. 
    • The continuance of the Act in any region for extended periods symbolises, according to the apex court, “failure of the civil administration and the armed forces’ ‘.
    • The apex court also ruled that over 1,500 cases of alleged fake encounters in Manipur, over the last 20 years, “must be investigated”.

    Way Forward

    • AFSPA is required to counter insurgencies and lack of development in the Northeast region is also a major reason for the insurgency therefore the Government should take urgent steps to create new opportunities for growth and development.
    • AFSPA should be made more comprehensive, with elaborate rules with respect to the method of investigations of alleged human rights violations to reduce the possibility of misusing it.
    • The Army should carry out fresh investigations into all alleged cases of human rights violations.

    Source:IE