Civil society groups, rights activists and political leaders have been demanding the withdrawal of AFSPA for years, alleging excesses by security forces with impunity under the cover of the Act
The recent decision by the government to remove the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from certain areas of Nagaland, Assam and Manipur could not have come a day earlier. However, it doesn’t mean that AFSPA has been completely withdrawn from the North-East. It comes after months of protests against the law and a botched operation in Nagaland that resulted in the deaths of 14 people in December 2021.
“Reduction in areas under AFSPA is a result of the improved security situation and fast-tracked development due to the consistent efforts and several agreements to end insurgency and bring lasting peace in North East by PM @narendramodi government,” read the tweet by Home Minister Amit Shah on the issue.
Enacted in 1942 in response to the Quit India movement, the British-era law AFSPA empowers security forces to conduct operations and arrest anyone without any prior warrant, besides giving immunity from arrest and prosecution if a person is killed in an operation. The law, which has been blamed by activists for killings and assault by forces, was first enforced in the North-East as a measure to battle the Naga insurgency in the then undivided state of Assam.
“Due to the significant improvement in the situation after Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014, now Afspa is being removed with effect from April 1 completely from 23 districts and partially from one district of Assam,” the Union Home Ministry said in a statement.
The disturbed area notification was in force in the whole of Assam since 1990.
Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma welcomed the order in a tweet. “I wholeheartedly welcome adarniya PM Shri @narendramodi ji’s decision to withdraw AFSPA from all areas of Assam barring nine districts and one subdivision,” the chief minister said in a series of tweets. “It is a testimony to the significant improvement in law and order in the state. With peace getting primacy, North-East is now on a new trajectory of growth and development.”
In a related development, Manipuri activist Irom Chanu Sharmila has welcomed the Union government’s decision to remove the law in several parts of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland. Sharmila ended a 16-year fast against the AFSPA to make her political debut in 2017. She was on a hunger strike from November 2000 to August 2016 before forming the Peoples’ Resurgence and Justice Alliance ahead of the 2017 Manipur assembly elections.
According to AFSPA, in an area that is proclaimed as ‘disturbed’, an officer of the armed forces has the following powers:
After giving such due warning, fire upon or use other kinds of force even if it causes death, against the person who is acting against law or order in the disturbed area for the maintenance of public order
To arrest without a warrant anyone who has committed cognizable offences or is reasonably suspected of having done so and may use force if needed for the arrest
To enter and search any premises in order to make such arrests, or to recover any person wrongfully restrained or any arms, ammunition or explosive substances and seize it
Stop and search any vehicle or vessel reasonably suspected to be carrying such person or weapons
Army officers have legal immunity for their actions. There can be no prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under that law. Nor is the government’s judgment on why an area is found to be disturbed subject to judicial review
Protection of persons acting in good faith under this act from prosecution, suit or other legal proceedings, except with the sanction of the Central Government, in exercise of the powers conferred by this act
Termed ‘draconian’, justifiably, its removal will repose people’s faith in democracy and reduce the justification of name-calling India. AFSPA is currently still in force in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, some areas of Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, Tirap, Longding and Changlang districts and Namsai and Mahadevpur police stations of Arunachal Pradesh.