Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)- EXPLAINED

Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) is a Parliamentary act that grants special powers to the Indian Armed Forces and the state and paramilitary forces in areas classified as “disturbed areas”. The objective to implement the AFSPA Act is to maintain law and order in the disturbed areas.

What Are disturbed areas?

In any area within a State extensive disturbance of the public peace and tranquillity, by reason of differences or disputes between members of different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, it may, by notification in the Official Gazette, declare such area to be a disturbed area.
 
According to the Disturbed Areas (Special Courts) Act, 1976 once declared ‘disturbed’, the area has to maintain the status quo for a minimum of 6 months. One such act passed on 11 September 1958 was applicable to the Naga Hills, then part of Assam. In the following decades it spread, one by one, to the other Seven Sister States in India’s northeast (at present, it is in force in the States of Assam, Nagaland, Manipur {excluding Imphal Municipal Council Area}, Changlang, Longding, and Tirap districts of Arunachal Pradesh, and areas falling within the jurisdiction of the eight police stations of districts in Arunachal Pradesh bordering the State of Assam).

What is AFSPA?

  • 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.
  • AFSPA is invoked when a case of militancy or insurgency takes place and the territorial integrity of India is at risk.
  • Security forces can “arrest a person without a warrant”, who has committed or is even “about to commit a cognizable offense” even based on “reasonable suspicion”.
  • It also provides security forces with legal immunity for their actions in disturbed areas.
  • While the armed forces and the government justify its need in order to combat militancy and insurgency, critics have pointed out cases of possible human rights violations linked to the act.

Armed Forces Special Powers (Assam and Manipur) Act, 1958

  1. In 1951, the ‘Naga National Council[1] There was a boycott of the first general election of 1952 which later extended to a boycott of government schools and officials.
  2.  In order to deal with the situation, the Assam government imposed the Assam Maintenance of Public Order (Autonomous District) Act in the Naga Hills in 1953 and intensified police action against the rebels.
  3. When the situation worsened, Assam deployed the Assam Rifles in the Naga Hills and enacted the Assam Disturbed Areas Act of 1955, providing a legal framework for the paramilitary forces and the armed state police to combat insurgency in the region. But the Assam Rifles and the state armed police could not contain the Naga rebellion and the rebel Naga Nationalist Council (NNC) formed a parallel government “The Federal Government of Nagaland” on 23 March 1956.
  4.  The Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Ordinance 1958 was promulgated by President Dr. Rajendra Prasad on 22 May 1958. It was replaced by the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act, 1958 on 11 September 1958.

The Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act, 1958 empowered only the Governors of the States and the Administrators of the Union Territories to declare areas in the concerned State or the Union Territory as ‘disturbed’. The reason for conferring such power as per “Objects and Reasons'” appended to the Bill was that “Keeping in view the duty of the Union under Article 355 of the Constitution, interalia, to protect every State against internal disturbance, it is considered desirable that the Central government should also have the power to declare areas as ‘disturbed’, to enable its armed forces to exercise the special powers”. 

The territorial scope of the act also expanded to the seven states of the North-East – Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, TripuraArunachal Pradesh, and Mizoram. In addition, the words “The Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act, 1958” were substituted by “Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958”, getting the acronym of AFSPA, 1958.

Recently the Tripura state government has decided to withdraw the controversial act, citing a significant reduction in the extent of terrorist activities in the state. In June 2015, after review, the AFSPA in Nagaland state was extended by one more year.

In November 2016, the Government of India has extended AFSPA in three districts of Arunachal Pradesh- Tirap, Changlang, and Longding. The period has further been extended by another 6 months in the above three districts of Arunachal Pradesh in April 2018. These have been declared as “disturbed areas” under

Section 3 of the AFSPA. In these districts, Naga underground factions including the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) and NSCN (Khaplang) are involved in extortion, recruitment of locals, and rivalry.

 
 

[1] The Naga National Council (NNC) is a political organization of Naga people, active from the late 1940s to the early 1950s. It evolved out the Naga Hills District Tribal Council, an organization established in 1945 by the Deputy Commissioner of the Naga Hills district

 

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