Why is it in the news?
- Recently, the Manipur government has extended the imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in the whole state for six more months.
- However, AFSPA will not be applicable in the jurisdiction of 19 police stations in seven districts of the Imphal Valley.
- The “disturbed area” status under AFSPA will remain applicable in all hill districts, primarily dominated by tribal communities.
More about the news
- AFSPA was gradually withdrawn from valley districts since 2022 due to improved security conditions.
- However, the army had requested the re-imposition of AFSPA in valley districts citing insurgent group activity. Insurgent groups operating from Myanmar advocate secession of Manipur from India.
- The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is investigating a transnational conspiracy by these groups to exploit ethnic unrest.
- Ethnic violence between the Meitei and tribal Kuki people has resulted in at least 175 deaths, the highest since 1999.
- The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) grants significant powers to the army and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) in “disturbed areas.”
- AFSPA has been applicable in Manipur since 1981 and in Naga-dominated areas since 1958.
- Provisions of AFSPA were withdrawn from certain areas in Manipur in a phased manner, with the latest withdrawal in April 2023.
- Both the state and Union governments can issue notifications regarding AFSPA, and currently, it is issued by the respective state governments for Manipur and Assam, while the Union Ministry of Home Affairs has issued notifications for Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.
Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA)
- AFSPA grants extraordinary powers and legal immunity to the armed forces to maintain order in “disturbed areas.”
- A disturbed area is declared by notification under Section 3 of the AFSPA.
- The Central Government, State Governor, or Union Territory administrator can declare an area as disturbed.
- Section 4 of AFSPA empowers armed forces with provisions like legal immunity, warrantless arrests, and vehicle searches.
AFSPA in North East
- Imposed in Nagaland in 1958 during the Naga nationalist movement.
- Extended to Manipur in 1958, initially in Naga-dominated districts and later statewide.
- Also imposed in Manipur’s Churachandpur district in the 1960s due to Mizo insurgent movement.
- Gradual extension to other Northeastern states as insurgencies emerged.
- Completely withdrawn from Mizoram in the 1980s, Tripura in 2015, and Meghalaya in 2018.
Significance of AFSPA
- AFSPA is used in areas where ordinary laws are inadequate to counter insurgencies.
- It provides legal protection for armed forces involved in counter-insurgency.
- Without AFSPA, the army may need to be withdrawn from sensitive areas, creating security gaps.
Reasons for opposition against AFSPA
- Allegations of human rights violations, including “fake encounters” and abuse by security forces.
- Violation of fundamental rights, such as arbitrary arrest and detention.
- Blanket immunity for security personnel without the need for prosecution or legal proceedings.
Steps taken to reach a middle ground
- Supreme Court verdicts emphasizing minimum use of force and periodic review of AFSPA.
- Formation of committees like the B P Jeevan Reddy Committee (2005) and Santosh Hegde Committee (2013) to review AFSPA.
- Recommendations for repeal and reform of AFSPA by various agencies and committees.
- Guidelines from the National Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court on encounter deaths.
- Activist protests, such as Irom Sharmila’s 16-year hunger strike against AFSPA.
- Fast-tracking cases and adopting a transparent process to address human rights violation allegations.
- Building trust with the local populace and involving civil society in developmental activities.
- Applying AFSPA on a case-by-case basis and limiting its scope to specific disturbed districts.
- Strengthening local law enforcement to reduce the need for AFSPA.
- Demilitarizing the region to promote normalcy, especially in the context of India’s Act East policy.