AFSPA and the challenges ahead
Jan 13, 2022
AFSPA and the challenges ahead
Q What is the context ?
A The death of civilians in Nagaland in a security operation has revived the debate about Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA).
Q What are some key details about AFSPA ?
- The AFSPA, 1958 came into force in the context of insurgency in the North-eastern States decades ago.
- It provides “special power” to the Armed Forces applies to the Army, the Air Force and the Central Paramilitary forces etc.
- It has been long contested debate whether the “special powers” granted under AFSPA gives total immunity to the armed forces for any action taken by them.
- Armed Forces Special Powers Act, to put it simply, gives armed forces the power to maintain public order in “disturbed areas.”
- AFSPA gives armed forces the authority use force or even open fire after giving due warning if they feel a person is in contravention of the law.
- The Act further provides that if “reasonable suspicion exists”, the armed forces can also arrest a person without warrant; enter or search premises without a warrant; and ban the possession of firearms.
Q What are the Disturbed Areas?
- A disturbed area is one that is declared by notification under Section 3 of the AFSPA.
- As per Section 3, it can be invoked in places where “the use of armed forces in aid of the civil power is necessary”.
Q Who can declare/notify such areas?
- 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.
- A suitable notification would have to be made in the Official Gazette.
Q Which are Presently ‘Disturbed Areas’ ?
- AFSPA is currently in force in Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, 3 districts of Arunachal Pradesh, and areas falling within the jurisdiction of 8 police stations in Arunachal Pradesh bordering Assam.
- In Jammu and Kashmir, a separate law Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990 has been in force.
Q Why is there demand for repeal of AFSPA ?
- Some years ago, all the northeastern states had come together to demand the annulment of this Act.
- That remained in the realm of yet another “demand”.
- In 1997, after Nagaland’s most enduring insurgent outfit, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN), led by Isak Swu and T H Muivah, first decided to talk peace with the Indian government, the Naga Peoples’ Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR) had approached the Supreme Court for revocation of the Act.
- Enabling legislation: The apex court had then upheld its constitutionality and said it was an enabling legislation that confers minimum powers on the army to operate in situations of widespread internal disorder.
Q What can be the Way Ahead ?
- Talk to the other groups: Many are wondering if the peace talks between the NSCN (IM) and the government of India now lie in tatters.
- The media has focussed exclusively on the NSCN (IM) and ignored the other Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), who have been brought on board because they are Nagaland-based and speak exclusively for Nagaland.
- The NNPGs and the Gaon Bura Association of Nagaland doubt NSCN(IM)’s ability to bring lasting peace in Nagaland.
- Since 2015, the Nagaland Gaon Bura Association, the apex body of Nagas which includes all the 16 recognised tribes and the NNPGs barring the NSCN (IM), have sent several memorandums to the government.
- These representatives of the Naga people do not demand a separate flag or constitution because they understand these are tenuous demands.
- These groups have also never raised the sovereignty issue.
- The working committee of the seven NNPGs, roped in to join the peace talks, are also opposed to the idea of changing interlocutors as and when the NSCN (IM) decides.
- Reconsider use of AFSPA: There is a need to reconsider the use of the army and AFSPA when killings have reduced considerably.
- The apex body has specifically mentioned that they want to be delivered from the gun culture.
- Check the misuse of FMR: Countering insurgency in the Northeast is fraught also because of the Free Movement Regime (FMR) between India and Myanmar.
- The government need to reconsider the use of AFSPA and also focus on other measures to ensure peace and stability in these regions.