Ending AFSPA in the Northeast
Recently, the PM has given the first authentic indication that the operation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) may come to an end in the whole of the north-eastern region, if ongoing efforts to normalise the situation bear fruit.
- Areas notified as ‘disturbed areas’ under AFSPA have been progressively reduced in the last few years, mainly due to the improvement in the security situation.
- About a month ago, the Union Home Ministry reduced such notified areas considerably in Assam, Nagaland and Manipur.
- There was a substantial reduction in Assam, where AFSPA was removed entirely in 23 districts and partially in one.
- In Nagaland, after the removal of the law from 15 police stations in seven districts, it remains in areas under 57 police stations, spread across 13 districts.
- AFSPA gives sweeping powers to the armed forces.
- Eg, it allows them to open fire, even causing death, against any person in contravention to the law or carrying arms and ammunition, and gives them powers to arrest individuals without warrants, on the basis of “reasonable suspicion”, and also search premises without warrants.
- It can be imposed by the Centre or the Governor of a state, on the state or parts of it, after these areas are declared “disturbed’’ under Section 3.
- The move is expected to help demilitarise the NE region; it will lift restrictions of movements through check points and frisking of residents.
- It will also help the Centre calm the anger over the Mon killings in Nagaland.
Why the decision now?
- Over the last two decades, various parts of the Northeast have seen a reduction in insurgencies, some of them up to 60 years old.
- 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.
State of AFSPA in North East
- AFSPA was revoked in Tripura in 2015 and in Meghalaya in 2018.
- It is convenient to link the exclusion of an area from AFSPA’s purview with reduction in violence by armed groups, improvement in the security situation and an increase in development activity, but what is important is the recognition that the law created an atmosphere of impunity and led to the commission of excesses and atrocities.
- It was hardly four months ago that 15 civilians were killed in Mon district in Nagaland in a botched military operation.
Reason for imposition of AFSPA in the Northeast
- Naga nationalist movement kicked off in the 1950s with the setting up of the Naga National Council (predecessor of the NSCN), Assam police forces allegedly used force to quell the movement.
- Armed movement took root in Nagaland → AFSPA was passed in Parliament → subsequently imposed on the entire state. Manipur (1958) in the three Naga-dominated districts of Senapati, Tamenglong and Ukhrul, where the NNC was active.
- Imposed in the 1960s in the Kuki-Zomi dominated Manipur district of Churachandpur, which was under the sway of the Mizo insurgent movement, and extended to the rest of the state in 1979, when groups in the Meitei-dominated Imphal Valley groups began an armed insurgency.
- As secessionist and nationalist movements started sprouting in other Northeastern states, AFSPA started being extended and imposed.
Unpopularity of AFSPA
- Nagaland - had psychological consequences, trauma and alienation of the people.
- Naga nationlist movement started peacefully, use of force & AFSPA furthered the feeling of alienation of the Naga people, solidifying Naga nationalism.
- Incidents of violence recorded in the Northeastern states, as AFSPA gives sweeping powers to security forces.
- In a writ petition filed in the Supreme Court in 2012, the families of victims of extra-judicial killings alleged 1,528 fake encounters had taken place in the state from May 1979 to May 2012.
- Supreme Court set up a commission to scrutinise six of these cases, and the commission found all six to be fake encounters.
Previous attempts to repeal/ reduce AFSPA
- 2000 - the activist Irom Sharmila began a hunger strike that would continue for 16 years against AFSPA in Manipur.
- 2004 - the then central government set up a five-member committee which submitted its report in 2005 recommending the repeal of AFSPA, calling it “highly undesirable”, and saying it had become a symbol of oppression.
- Second Administrative Reforms Commission - endorsed these recommendations.
Positions of state governments
- While 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.
- The fight to repeal AFSPA has largely been driven by civil society groups.
- Until the Oting firing, no state government had openly demanded the repeal of AFSPA from their states.
- After Oting, the Nagaland Assembly passed a resolution for the first time for repeal of AFSPA.
- Chief ministers of Nagaland, Manipur, and Meghalaya have demanded its repeal.
- Therefore, alongside the gradual reduction in the areas under the Act, there should be serious efforts to procure justice for victims of past excesses too.
- On the political side, it is indeed true that much headway has been made in moving towards a political solution to some of the multifarious disputes in the region, in the form of peace accords, ceasefire and creation of sub-regional administrative arrangements.
- The removal of AFSPA from the entire region will be an inevitable step in the process.
- But irrespective of the security situation, AFSPA should not have allowed such impunity to the armed forces.
- Jeevan Reddy Committee
Q. The recent withdrawal of AFSPA from parts of Northeast is significant. Comment.