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AFSPA

GS paper: 3

Topics Covered: Challenges to internal security through communication networks, the role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, basics of cyber security; money laundering and its prevention.

 

Context: 

AFSPA, which gives sweeping powers to the armed forces, has been fully or partially withdrawn from parts of three Northeast states — Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. Still, AFSPA remains in force in parts of these three states as well as in parts of Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir.

 

 What does the AFSPA mean?

In simple terms, AFSPA gives armed forces the power to maintain public order in “disturbed areas”.

 

What is a “disturbed area” and who has the power to declare it?

A disturbed area is one which is declared by notification under Section 3 of the AFSPA. An area can be disturbed due to differences or disputes between members of different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities.

  • 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.

 

 Powers under AFSPA: AFSPA, which has been called draconian, 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, and gives them powers to arrest individuals without warrants, on the basis of “reasonable suspicion”, and also search premises without warrants.

 

Why decision to withdraw AFSPA from parts of Northeast is significant

  • Will reduce alienation: The Northeast has lived under the shadow of AFSPA for nearly 60 years, creating a feeling of alienation from the rest of the country.
  • Demilitarise the region: The move is expected to help demilitarise the region; it will lift restrictions of movements through check points and frisking of residents.
  • Calm the resentment due to the recent killings in Nagaland: The move covers some districts of Nagaland and Manipur that armed forces have red-flagged earlier. It will also help the Centre calm the anger over the Mon killings in Nagaland.

After being in force for many years, why has AFSPA been withdrawn now?

  • Reduction in insurgencies: Over the last two decades, various parts of the Northeast have seen a reduction in insurgencies, some of them up to 60 years old. 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.
  • Fast-track development: North-east region has seen increased investment in core infrastructure and community related projects and need was felt for people to own and cooperate with authorities in developmental activities.

Why was AFSPA imposed on the Northeast in the first place?

  • To supress Naga nationalist movements: When the Naga nationalist movement kicked off in the 1950s with the setting up of the Naga National Council — the predecessor of the NSCN — 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.
  • Manipur: In Manipur, too, it was imposed in 1958 in the three Naga-dominated districts of Senapati, Tamenglong and Ukhrul, where the NNC was active.
  • As secessionist and nationalist movements started sprouting in other Northeastern states, AFSPA started being extended and imposed.

 What has made AFSPA unpopular among the people?

  • Human rights violations by Army: In Nagaland, 60 years of living under the AFSPA regime has had psychological consequences, trauma and alienation of the people. The use of force and AFSPA furthered the feeling of alienation of the Naga people, solidifying Naga nationalism.
  • Issue of Fake encounters: 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. The Supreme Court set up a commission to scrutinise six of these cases, and the commission found all six to be fake encounters.
  • Poor checks and balances: While the Act gives powers to security forces to open fire, this cannot be done without prior warning given to the suspect. It says the armed forces must act in cooperation with the district administration and not as an independent body. However, such procedure has rarely been followed.
  • Poor investigation: Cases in Nagaland have not been investigated. In Manipur, with the Supreme Court has taken up the extra-judicial killings, the CBI has investigated 39 cases (94 killings) only.

 

Has there been any review of the Act?

On November 19, 2004, the Central government appointed a five-member committee headed by Justice B P Jeevan Reddy to review the provisions of the act in the north eastern states.

  • The committee submitted its report in 2005, which included the following recommendations: (a) AFSPA should be repealed and appropriate provisions should be inserted in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967; (b) The Unlawful Activities Act should be modified to clearly specify the powers of the armed forces and paramilitary forces and (c) grievance cells should be set up in each district where the armed forces are deployed.

The 5th report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission on public order has also recommended the repeal of the AFSPA.

Former home secretary G K Pillai too supported the repeal of AFSPA. Former home minister P Chidambaram has said that the Act, if not repealed, should at least be amended.

What positions have state governments taken on the law?

  • Unilateral decision of Centre: 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. However, there have been instances where the Centre has overruled the state, such as the imposition of AFSPA in Tripura in 1972.
  • The recent resolution of Nagaland Assembly to repeal AFSPA: The fight to repeal AFSPA has largely been driven by civil society groups. Until the Oting firing (Nagaland), 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.

 

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. About AFSPA and states in which it still operates
  2. What are ‘disturbed areas’ and who can give order for the imposition of AFSPA.

Mains Link:

  1. Bring out the various concerns regarding implementation of AFSPA in various parts of India. What reforms have been suggested in this regard. (15M).

Sources: Indian Express