AFSPA withdrawn from Meghalaya, parts of Arunachal Pradesh

 

Why in news?

The government on Monday withdrew the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from all of Meghalaya and parts of Arunchal Pradesh.

Highlights

  • The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has been withdrawn from Meghalaya and its area of operation in Arunachal Pradesh has been restricted to eight police stations bordering Assam and three districts adjoining Myanmar, according to officials in Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Among the eight Northeast states, AFSPA is now applicable only in Nagaland, Manipur (excluding Imphal), Assam and parts of Arunachal Pradesh. Mizoram and Tripura reported no incidents of insurgency in 2017, the officials said. MHA officials said that till September 2017, 40 per cent of Meghalaya was under AFSPA — this included a 20 km stretch of the state’s 884.9 km border with Assam. “A review was held in consultation with the state government in September last year and the 20 km stretch under AFSPA was reduced to 10 km. Another review was held recently after which the decision to revoke AFSPA was taken,” said a top MHA official.
  • People familiar with the developments stated, on condition of anonymity, that “the Act has been removed from 1 April 2018 in Meghalaya while also being revoking from parts of Arunachal Pradesh”.
  • In Arunachal Pradesh, the controversial Act was removed from half the 16 police stations where it was enforced in 2017.
  • It was retained for areas near the border with Assam, and across three districts—Tirap, Changlang and Longding—near the Indo-Myanmar border.
  • At the same time, with effect from 1 April, the ministry also relaxed the 60-year old Protected Area Permit (PAP) for foreigners visiting Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland.
  • “The permit will be valid for five years for visitors. Residents from countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and China will not be allowed to visit these areas,” one of the persons cited above added.
  • Under the Foreigners (Protected Areas) Order, 1958, all areas falling between the Inner Line and International Border of some states were declared as protected areas.
  • Earlier this year, on 4 March, the Assam government extended the implementation of AFSPA in the state for six more months, till September. The home and political department of Assam on 28 February declared the whole state a “disturbed area” under the Act.
  • “The insurgency situation in Meghalaya or Arunachal Pradesh never did warrant the implementation of AFSPA. It had been imposed because of the terrain—there was always the chance of Bodos or Manipuris or Nagas going and taking shelter in these states. Insurgency in the entire North-East can be controlled by the state police and the army should recede to the background and act as a reserve,” said Lt. Gen (retd) H.S Panag, a defence expert.
  • The MHA also enhanced the surrender-cum-rehabilitation policy for Northeast. Under the revised norms from April 1, 2018, a militant who surrenders will get a grant of Rs 4 lakh as against Rs 1 lakh earlier. 2017, according to MHA, recorded the lowest insurgency incidents and casualties among civilians and security forces in the last two decades.

What is AFSPA, and where is it in force?

What does the AFSPA mean?

  • In simple terms, AFSPA gives armed forces the power to maintain public order in “disturbed areas”. They have the authority to prohibit a gathering of five or more persons in an area, can use force or even open fire after giving due warning if they feel a person is in contravention of the law. If reasonable suspicion exists, the army can also arrest a person without a warrant; enter or search a premises without a warrant; and ban the possession of firearms.
  • Any person arrested or taken into custody may be handed over to the officer in charge of the nearest police station along with a report detailing the circumstances that led to the arrest.

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. A suitable notification would have to be made in the Official Gazette. As per Section 3 , it can be invoked in places where “the use of armed forces in aid of the civil power is necessary”.
  • The Ministry of Home Affairs would usually enforce this Act where necessary, but there have been exceptions where the Centre decided to forego its power and leave the decision to the State governments.

What’s the origin of AFSPA?

  • The Act came into force in the context of increasing violence in the Northeastern States decades ago, which the State governments found difficult to control. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Bill was passed by both the Houses of Parliament and it was approved by the President on September 11, 1958. It became known as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958.

Which States are, or had come under this Act?

  • It is effective in the whole of Nagaland, Assam, Manipur (excluding seven assembly constituencies of Imphal) and parts of Arunachal Pradesh. The Centre revoked it in Meghalaya on April 1, 2018. Earlier, the AFSPA was effective in a 20 km area along the Assam-Meghalaya border. In Arunachal Pradesh, the impact of AFSPA was reduced to eight police stations instead of 16 police stations and in Tirap, Longding and Changlang districts bordering Assam.
  • Tripura withdrew the AFSPA in 2015. Jammu and Kashmir too has a similar Act.

How has this Act been received by the people?

  • It has been a controversial one, with human rights groups opposing it as being aggressive. Manipur’s Irom Sharmila has been one if its staunchest opponents, going on a hunger strike in November 2000 and continuing her vigil till August 2016. Her trigger was an incident in the town of Malom in Manipur, where ten people were killed waiting at a bus stop.

Q.1 With respect to armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), consider the following statements

  1. AFSPA was enacted in 1958 amid the nascent Naga insurgency.
  2. It gives powers to the army and state and central police forces to shoot to kill, search houses and destroy any property that is “likely” to be used by insurgents in areas declared as “disturbed” by the home ministry.

Choose the correct answer from the codes given below

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: c) both 1 and 2

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