An Indian Army soldier patrols near the line of control, the line that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan, after a reported cease-fire violation, in Mendhar, Poonch district. Photo: AP
The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act was enacted in 1958 to bring under control what the government of India considered ‘disturbed’ areas. The Tripura government on Thursday decided to lift the controversial law which according to a Press Trust of India report “was in effect for the last 18 years to curb insurgency.”
The Act has often faced flak from human rights groups as it gave sweeping powers and immunity to the army in conflict-ridden areas.
As of now, according to the home ministry, six more states come under the ambit of this law under various conditions. Here is a simple explainer to make sense of it all:
Which other states are under AFSPA right now?
Assam, Nagaland, Manipur (except the Imphal municipal area), Arunachal Pradesh (only the Tirap, Changlang and Longding districts plus a 20-km belt bordering Assam), Meghalaya (confined to a 20-km belt bordering Assam) and Jammu and Kashmir.
Why is this required?
The government (either the state or centre) considers those areas to be ‘disturbed’ “by reason of differences or disputes between members of different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities.”
How does one officially declare a region to be ‘disturbed’?
Section (3) of the AFSPA Act empowers the governor of the state or Union territory to issue an official notification on The Gazette of India, following which the centre has the authority to send in armed forces for civilian aid. It is still unclear whether the governor has to prompt the centre to send in the army or whether the centre on its own sends in troops.
Once declared ‘disturbed’, the region has to maintain status quo for a minimum of three months, according to The Disturbed Areas (Special Courts) Act, 1976.
What about the state government’s role?
The state governments, as in Tripura’s case, can suggest whether the Act is required to be enforced or not. But under Section (3) of the Act, their opinion can still be overruled by the governor or the centre.
Is the Act uniform in nature?
No. Originally, it came into being as an ordinance in 1958 and within months was repealed and passed as an Act. But, this was meant only for Assam and Manipur, where there was insurgency by Naga militants. But after the northeastern states were reorganized in 1971, the creation of new states (some of them union territories originally) like Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh paved the way for the AFSPA Act to be amended, so that it could be applied to each of them. They may contain different sections as applicable to the situation in each state.
What about Jammu and Kashmir? There were reports saying that it technically wasn’t a disturbed area after 1998.
This is a bit more complex. Jammu and Kashmir (as with a lot of things) has a separate legislation for this—its own Disturbed Areas Act (DAA) which came into existence in 1992. So, as this Indian Express article
, even if the DAA for J&K lapsed in 1998, the government reasoned that the state can still be declared disturbed under Section(3) of AFSPA.
Is Tripura then the first state to completely do away with AFSPA?
No. It was applied in Punjab and Chandigarh in 1983 due to secessionist movements and lasted for 14 years until there 1997. What is interesting was that while the Punjab government withdrew its DAA in 2008, it continued in Chandigarh till September 2012 when the Punjab and Haryana high court struck it down following a petition filed by a local member of the Janata Dal (United).
AFSPA removed in Tripura after 18 years: Why it was enforced and why it’s gone now
A bit over 18 years after the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was enforced in Tripura, the state government on Wednesday decided to withdraw the Act.
“In view of the significant taming of terrorism in Tripura, the council of ministers today (Wednesday) decided to withdraw the AFSPA from the entire state,” Chief Minister Manik Sarkar told reporters.
AFSPA had been enforced in Tripura in 1997. AFP
“The security forces recently exhaustively reviewed the law and order situation in the state. Considering the reports of the security forces, the council of ministers decided to recommend to the union home ministry to issue a notification to withdraw the AFSPA,” he said.
“The decisions were taken in view of the decrease of militancy-related incidents in Tripura over the last few years. However, the security forces would be watchful over the situation,” Sarkar said.
AFSPA provides unlimited powers to security forces to shoot at sight, arrest anybody without a warrant, and carry out searches without consent . All this knowing that they wouldn’t face any legal action for any action undertaken under the act.
The central act was first enforced in Tripura on 16 February, 1997 when terrorism was at its peak in the state, which shares an 856-km border with Bangladesh.
Members of two separatist groups – National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) – are still sheltered and accused of getting arms training in Bangladesh. These two groups have been demanding the secession of Tripura from India.
Local rights groups and political parties in Tripura had described the act as “draconian” and wanted it repealed.“Tribal parties such as the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura and the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura had been demanding the withdrawal of the Act, saying it was aimed at suppressing the State’s 33 percent tribal population,”
said a report
in The Hindu
Ever since it was enforced in Tripura, the Act, as per its provisions, was reviewed and extended after every six months.
“When the Act was imposed there were only 42 police stations and two-third of the entire police station areas were under this act,” CM Sarkar said on Wednesday.
However, in view of the improvement in the situation and fewer terrorist activities being reported, the Tripura government in June 2013 reduced operational areas of the AFSPA to 30 police station areas. Before that, out of 72 police stations in Tripura, AFSPA had been force in 40. The total number of police stations in Tripura is 74 now.
According to a Deccan Herald report, Tripura saw a rapid decline in militancy over the past five years as hundreds of militants surrendered. The ruling Left Front, which has been in power in Tripura since 1993, has been contemplating the withdrawal of the law and had the support from opposition parties like the Congress and BJP, who were also in favour the move.
The report quoted unnamed sources in the Home Ministry as saying that talks on the issue of withdrawal of AFSPA from Tripura had been on for the last few months.
The last six-month extension to AFSPA was given in November 2014, when police had said militants had killed two BSF troopers, a civilian driver and had abducted several people in six different incidents in the state.
However, perhaps the most prominent evidence of the decline of militancy and separatism in Tripura came when the state recorded over 84 percent voter turnout in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, one of the highest voter turnouts in the country, according to the Election Commission.
On Wednesday, when the state government decided to withdraw the Act, an official with the home department said: “Though the four-and-half-decade-old terrorism has been tamed in Tripura, the state government is always cautious about the terror outfits and their activities.”
In one of the first political reactions, Congress leader and former Finance Minister P Chidambaram welcomed the withdrawal of AFSPA.