Demand for AFSPA repeal renews after Nagaland incident: All you need to know about law
AFSPA confers special powers on the armed forces in areas deemed disturbed. A military officer can fire upon an unlawful assembly of five or more people if the need arises or even for illegal possession of fire arms
The killing of 14 civilians in Nagaland in a botched anti-insurgency operation and retaliatory violence over the weekend in Mon district of Nagaland has yet again renewed calls for the repeal of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958.
The latest to echo the sentiment is Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma, whose NPP is an ally of the BJP in the NDA.
AFSPA should be repealed
— Conrad Sangma (@SangmaConrad) December 6, 2021
But what is AFSPA? And why is it the centre of controversy yet again?
Let's briefly examine this:
What is AFSPA?
AFSPA confers special powers on the armed forces in areas deemed “disturbed”. In a 'disturbed area' a military officer can fire upon an unlawful assembly of five or more people if the need arises or even for illegal possession of fire arms.
When was it enacted?
The Parliament had passed the bill on 11 September, 1958, to enable certain special powers to be conferred upon members of the armed forces in 'disturbed areas' of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura.
Why is it controversial?
As Section 4 of the law spells out:
Any commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or any other person of equivalent rank in the armed forces may, in a disturbed area,―
(a) If he is of opinion that it is necessary so to do for the maintenance of public order, after giving such due warning as he may consider necessary, fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law or order for the time being in force in the disturbed area prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons or the carrying of weapons or of things capable of being used as weapons or of fire-arms, ammunition or explosive substances.
No arrest and search warrants are required for any operation, as per the law's provisions:
(c) Arrest, without warrant, any person who has committed a cognizable offence or against whom a reasonable suspicion exists that he has committed or is about to commit a cognizable offence and may use such force as may be necessary to effect the arrest;
(d) Enter and search without warrant any premises to make any such arrest as aforesaid or to recover any person believed to be wrongfully restrained or confined or any property reasonably suspected to be stolen property or any arms, ammunition or explosive substances believed to be unlawfully kept in such premises, and may for that purpose use such force as may be necessary.
As Section 6, Protection to persons acting under Act, puts it: No prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government, against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act
Obviously, that tilts things way in favour of the military.
Where is it in force?
AFSPA is currently in force in Assam, Nagaland, Manipur (excluding Imphal Municipal Council area), Arunachal Pradesh's Changlang, Longding, Tirap districts and areas falling within the of eight police stations at the Assam border.
Civil society groups, rights activists and political leaders of the North East region have for years been demanding the withdrawal of the "draconian" law, alleging excesses by security forces with impunity under the cover of the Act.
Who said what
The North East Students' Organisation (NESO), an umbrella body of students' unions of the region, said the Centre should repeal the law if it is concerned about the welfare and well-being of the people of the northeast.
"...otherwise it will only further alienate the people of the region," NESO chairman Samuel B Jyrwa said.
"The armed forces have been operating in the Northeast with impunity and they are further emboldened with the imposition of a draconian law known as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 (AFSPA)."
The state Congress also supported Sangma, urging him to convene a meeting for consultation over the issue. "We must go all out to demand immediate repeal of this draconian oppression on our people. Kindly convene a consultation at the earliest," Congress MLA Ampareen Lyngdoh tweeted in reply to Sangma.
The Hynniewtrep Youth Council (HYC) also demanded that the AFSPA be withdrawn for building a peaceful northeast. "We call upon the Government of India to rein in their Armed Forces if they really wish the peace to prevail in the Region as incidents like these will only bring instability, which is not a good sign for the region as a whole," HYC general secretary Roykupar Synrem said.
"Steps should be taken towards building a peaceful North-East and the correct and necessary steps towards achieving full peace is to withdraw or Repeal the AFSPA from the Region completely as well as deployment or stationing Armed Forces to the bare minimum," he said.
Voicing concern, the Khasi Students Union (KSU) said the government should formulate laws to safeguard the rights of the indigenous people. "The Government of India should immediately revoke the monstrous AFSPA and instead formulate laws to safeguard and protect the rights and existence of the indigenous inhabitants of NE India," it said in a statement.
KSU president Lambok Marngar said the government should take stringent and harsh action against the "erring and bloodthirsty" personnel involved in the civilian killings in Nagaland's Mon district.
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