Union Home Ministry has declared extended Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), 1958 by six months till June 2019 in Nagaland by declaring entire state as disturbed area. It was extended by Centre in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 3 of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (No. 28 of 1958). The declaration of Nagaland as “disturbed area” was taken as killings, loot and extortion have been going on in various parts of state which necessitated the action for convenience of the security forces operating there.
AFSPA has been in force in Nagaland for several decades. It has not been withdrawn even after framework agreement was signed in August 2015, by Naga insurgent group NSCN-IM general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah and government interlocutor R.N. Ravi in presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The framework agreement came after over 80 rounds of negotiations spanning 18 years with first breakthrough in 1997 when the ceasefire agreement was sealed after decades of insurgency in Nagaland.
Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)
- It was enacted by Parliament on September 11, 1958 to help the army in tackling disturbed areas of the Northeast India. It was extended to Jammu & Kashmir amid increase in the insurgency in 1990.
- It gives immense powers to armed forces to maintain the rule of law in the “disturbed areas”. Under this law the armed forces have authority to prohibit gathering of five or more persons in an area.
- In some cases, armed forces can open fire on the disturbing factors after giving due warning if found any suspicious person.
- 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.
When is state or region declared as disturb area?
- 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”.
- Section (3) of the AFSPA Act empowers makes it mandatory to seek opinion of state government to declare an area as disturbed area, it will be under control of special forces for at least 3 months.
Which powers are given to the Armed forces under the ASFPA?
- Armed forces can search any house without any warrant and required force can be used to search it.
- Any suspect can be arrested without a warrant.
- Armed forces have authority to prohibit gathering of five or more persons in an area.
- Armed forces can open fire on disturbing factors after giving due warning if they find any suspicious person.
- If person is repeated offender and tries to disturb peace of the area, then armed forces are entitled to use force till his death.
- It allows armed forces to destroy any house/building or site or structure where suspect or militant or offender is hiding.
- Armed forces can stop and search any vehicle.
- No legal action is not taken against can be taken against armed forces in the case of wrongful action.
Arguments against AFSPA
- The immunity granted to armed forces by AFSPA has led them to misuse powers given to them and commit offences like fake encounters and sexual assault.
- This is gross human rights violation and weakens people’s faith in democracy which further strengthening moral of insurgents and separatists.
- It weakens democracy as it suspends fundamental rights and liberties guaranteed to the citizens by the constitution.
- Critics argue that AFSPA has failed in its objective of restoring normalcy in disturbed areas although being in existence for about 60 years.
- Power to lift AFSPA lies with the Governor or Centre, and states donot have much powers in this domain, thus weakening federal character of country.
Arguments in favour of AFSPA
- AFPSA has played crucial role in maintaining law and order in disturbed areas. Thus, protecting sovereignty and security of the nation.
- It is essential for armed forces to function effectively in insurgency and militancy affected areas to deal with serious breakdown of law and order.
- It is crucial to empower armed forces as hundreds of armed forces personnel have lost their lives every year at the hands of insurgents and militants.
- Thus, absence of strict law, armed forces will not be able to tackle the insurgent inside the country esp. in the Kashmir and North eastern region of the country.
Critics of the AFSPA, comparing it with colonial Rowlatt Act argue that there is no need to run country on basis of bullet while matter should be resolved on the basis of ballet. So, it is necessary to find alternative strategy to of this law to deal with issues of insurgency and militancy, where people are not alienated but plays an active participatory role.