Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958

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     Government intends withdrawing the much-dreaded Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 completely from the North Eastern region 

    About Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958

    • Genesis :The genesis of the law can be traced to the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Ordinance 1942 which was enacted by the British to subjugate the rebels in the country during the Quit India movement, particularly in Assam and Bengal .
      • The law continues to be enforced in its new format as the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958.
    • Need :The need for the law was required in the 1950s when Naga insurgents resorted to large-scale violence. Hundreds of Indian Army soldiers, central and State paramilitary personnel were either killed or injured in ambushes that had been meticulously planned and launched by the insurgents. Informers of the security forces were eliminated or disabled
    • 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.
    • It has been a controversial one, with human rights groups opposing it as being aggressive. 
    • Therefore it has been stated that the north-east needs to be freed from the net of AFSPA, as it has subsumed constitutional rights with impunity
    • Court’s stand: The Supreme Court of India passed an interim order recently on a petition filed by the wives of the commandos found guilty by the SIT.
    • When the Extrajudicial Execution Victim Families’ Association Manipur (EEVFAM) approached the top court in 2012 to have 1,528 cases of alleged fake encounters investigated through the Central Bureau of Investigation ( Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association (EEVFAM) vs Union of India & Anr.), it was found that the first six cases investigated were indeed fake encounters. This prompted the Court to conclude that the veracity of the allegations made by the Association was beyond suspicion. Having come under the scanner, the AFSPA drew critical comments from the Supreme Court.
    • Previous attempts to repeal AFSPA : Efforts made in the past to rescind the law have met with failure. The iron lady of Manipur, Irom Chanu Sharmila, went on a 16-year long hunger strike starting from November 2000. 
    • The Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy Commission that was tasked with reviewing the provisions of AFSPA submitted its report in  2005 with the recommendation that AFSPA be withdrawn.
    •  Surprisingly, it had suggested making amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA) to achieve the purpose of AFSPA. The report was subsequently shelved.
    • Former home secretary G K Pillai too supported the repeal of AFSPA. 
    • Former Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram was of the firm opinion that AFSPA should be withdrawn. 
    • Way Forward 
    • AFSPA  was withdrawn from 23 districts in Assam and partially from seven districts in Nagaland, six districts in Manipur, However, there needs to be a comprehensive and serious periodical review undertaken by the Centre till the entire North-east is freed from the tentacles of AFSPA.
    • Investigations into the 1,528 alleged fake encounters also need to be fast tracked and taken to their logical conclusion. If necessary, there needs to be incarceration of the guilty, thereby sending out a clear message that those who murder under the cloak of the uniform of the security forces cannot expect to go scot free if there are violations.
    • The Army should carry out fresh investigations into all alleged cases of human rights violations.
    • 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.

    Mains Practise Question 

    [Q] What impunity does the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 give the armed forces, and how have earlier attempts at repeal played out?