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AFSPA: Is it time for its withdrawal from Assam?

POSTED ON 4th May, 2018

parmita das

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) has been withdrawn completely from Meghalaya effective from April 1, 2018. Earlier, the law was in force in the State within a 20-km area along the border of Assam. The decision of withdrawing AFSPA from Meghalaya was taken due to considerate improvements in insurgency related violence in the state.

Along with it, in Arunachal Pradesh, the extent of the Act was brought down from 16 police station areas to eight police station areas. The eight police stations, in whose areas the Act was not revoked, are Balemu and Bhalukpong police stations in West Kameng district, Seijosa police station in East Kameng district, Balijan police station in Papumpare district, Namsai and Mahadevpur police stations in Namsai district, Roing police station in Lower Dibang Valley district and Sunpura police station in Lohit district. However, AFSPA has been extended by another six months in three eastern districts of Arunachal Pradesh, namely, Tirap, Longding and Changlang, which borders Myanmar.

The removal of the Act from Meghalaya and its restriction in Arunachal Pradesh, follows its revocation from the state of Tripura in May 2015, wherein it was in force since February 1997. Justifying the decision of revocation of AFSPA, the then Chief Minister of Tripura, Manik Sarkar, had said that "Insurgency has come down to near zero in the state. The demand for withdrawing the Act had been made at various levels. But we could not take the final decision as the security forces did not give the final go ahead....Recently, when the proposal of further extension of AFSPA came up for discussion, we sought report from all departments concerned about law and order and militant activities. Finally, the security agencies have agreed to the proposal of withdrawing the Act.”

AFSPA has been a controversial topic in the Northeast. The human rights activists in the region have been demanding for revoking of AFSPA from entire Northeastern region, as the Act is seen as a draconian law which violates the fundamental rights of the citizens. AFSPA gives the Armed Forces the authority to arrest people without warrant and fire on suspicion, even leading to death. It also provides immunity to the armed forces from prosecution and legal suits without the sanction of the Central government.

At present, AFSPA is effective in the whole of Nagaland, Assam and Manipur (excluding seven Assembly constituencies of Imphal). It came into force in Assam in 1990 and in Manipur in 1980. In Nagaland, the act was first introduced in Nagaland in 1958. The Act has been periodically extended over the years. It was not withdrawn in Nagaland even after a framework agreement was signed by the Government with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland - Isak-Muivah faction (NSCN-IM) on August 3, 2015.

The security situation in the Northeast has now improved considerably compared to the earlier years. According to a report of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), insurgency-related violence in Assam is lowest since 1997 and in 2017, it decreased by 56 percent compared to 2016. Similarly, in 2017, Manipur (28 percent), Nagaland (67 percent) and Meghalaya (59 percent) also documented a decrease in violence level related to insurgency.

The only state where there was a rise in insurgency-related incidents was Arunachal Pradesh, where it rose by 22 percent in 2017. The report of the MHA states that though Arunachal Pradesh does not have any active indigenous insurgent groups, the state is affected by activities of the ULFA faction led by Paresh Barua (ULFA-I), along with NSCN-K and NDFB-S, which has made it the only northeastern state with rising number of insurgency-related incidents.

The MHA report states that there has been substantial improvement in security situation in Assam, with insurgency-related incidents declining from 75 in 2016 to 33 in 2017. Police personnel and security forces have been able to contain the activities of insurgent groups in a significant manner.

This improvement in security condition of Assam calls for removal of AFSPA from Assam. In fact, in August 2017, the Centre had left the decision to either continue the AFSPA or revoke it to the State government. Since then, the State government has extended it for six months twice –in September 2017 and in March 2018. However, with the overall improvement in the situation in the State, the Assam Government now has the power to invoke the controversial Act. It will be the fulfilment of a long-standing demand of the people of Assam.