Time to repeal AFSPA ?

Flights Of Fantasy

[ M Panging Pao ]

One of the most contentious socio-political issues confronting people from North East India is the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act or AFSPA.

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) was enacted in 1958. It authorizes the central government and states to declare the regions they govern to be “disturbed areas.” In these “disturbed areas”, the act gives armed forces extraordinary powers, including immunity from legal action, the license to shoot to kill and arrest people without obtaining warrants. Security officers have legal immunity for their actions. There can be no prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under that law.

AFSPA has been in force in Assam and Nagaland since 1958. Presently it is in force in Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and Jammu & Kashmir. In Arunachal Pradesh, only Tirap, Changlang and Longding districts, plus a 20-km belt bordering Assam, come under its purview.

Tripura and Meghalaya decided to withdraw AFSPA, citing significant reduction in the extent of terrorist activities in the states.

Some of the most violent anti-national acts have occurred in naxal infested areas of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, etc. The largest massacre of security forces was in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, wherein 76 CRPF jawans were massacred by Maoists. Despite the increasing violence and lawlessness, AFSPA has never been applied in these states.

AFSPA has been enforced in Nagaland for 63 years, Manipur for 41 years, and in three districts of Arunachal for 30 years. Even after implementation of AFSPA for prolonged durations, terrorist activities have not seen significant reductions. There are parallel governments run by many underground organizations, forcing people to pay additional taxes. If conditions could not be improved much after implementation of AFSPA for periods upto 63 years then why expand the applicability of this act to other areas of North East India?

The recent mistaken killing of 14 civilians during counter-insurgency operations by security forces in Mon district of Nagaland has refueled loud cries for withdrawal of the AFSPA from the region.

Earlier Jeevan Reddy Committee recommended that AFSPA should be repealed.

Similarly, the Santosh Hegde Committee report in 2013 said that AFSPA gave “sweeping powers” to men in uniform without granting citizens protection against its misuse.

It is evident that most states of NE India are police states with presence of numerous security forces armed with extraordinary powers. The anti-national activities and violent incidents by Maoists in the states of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh are similar to those occurring in NE India if not more. Then the moot question is, why is APSPA not implemented in these states? Why has army deployment been avoided in these states?

Like Tripura and Meghalaya, could we dream of withdrawing AFSPA from NE India and Arunachal Pradesh? Can we hope to live in a trouble free and peaceful Arunachal and North East?  (The contributor is retired Group Captain, Indian Air Force)