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Hyderabad: The Union Government recently partially withdrawn the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958 from parts of three Northeast states— Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. Currently, AFSPA remains in force in parts of these three states as well as in parts of Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir. Read more about the law that has always been in the news…

AFSPA

AFSPA gives sweeping powers to the armed forces. For example, it allows them to open fire, even causing death, against any person in contravention to the law or carrying arms and ammunition.
Also, it gives them powers to arrest individuals without warrants, based on “reasonable suspicion”, and 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 Act was amended in 1972 and the powers to declare an area as “disturbed” were conferred concurrently upon the Central government along with the States. Currently, the Union Home Ministry issues periodic “disturbed area” notification to extend AFSPA only for Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.

The notification for Manipur and Assam is issued by the State governments. Tripura revoked the Act in 2015 and Meghalaya was under AFSPA for 27 years, until it was revoked by the MHA from 1st April 2018.

Role of State Governments

Informal consultation with State: While the Act gives powers to the central government to unilaterally decide 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.

According to the act, after the apprehension of suspects, the security forces have to hand them over to the local police station within 24 hours. It says the armed forces must act in cooperation with the district administration and not as an independent body.

Why was AFSPA imposed

Naga Insurgency: When the Naga nationalist movement kicked off in the 1950s with the setting up of the Naga National Council (NNC), the Assam police forces allegedly used force to quell the movement.

As an armed movement took root in Nagaland, AFSPA was passed in Parliament, and subsequently imposed on the entire State.

In Manipur, too, it was imposed in 1958 in the three Naga-dominated districts of Senapati, Tamenglong and Ukhrul, where the NNC was active.

Opposition to AFSPA

According to leaders of the Naga nationalist movement, the use of force and AFSPA furthered the feeling of alienation of the Naga people, solidifying Naga nationalism.

Various incidents of violence have been recorded in the Northeastern states, as AFSPA gives sweeping powers to security forces.

Impact of AFSPA’s withdrawal

Withdrawal: 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 the North-East by the Indian government.

The Northeast has lived under the shadow of AFSPA for nearly 60 years, creating a feeling of alienation from the rest of the country. The move is expected to help demilitarise the region, it will lift restrictions on movements through checkpoints and frisking of residents.

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Author: Howard Caldwell