Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)

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    Context 

    • The Government of Assam in the exercise of powers conferred by Section 3 of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, has declared the entire State of Assam as a ‘Disturbed Area’ for up to six months with effect from August 28, 2021, 
    • The AFSPA was imposed in Assam in November 1990 and is extended every six months since then after a review by the State government.

    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.
    • The AFSPA is also in force in the entire Nagaland, certain districts of Arunachal Pradesh, and most parts of Manipur barring the Imphal municipal areas.

    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

    • 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.

    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: TH