The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which allows a geographical location to be declared a disturbed area to aid military operations, will now apply fully in 31 districts and partially in 12 districts in four Northeastern states: Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh.
There are 90 districts in these four states.
In Meghalaya in 2018, Tripura in 2015, and Mizoram in the 1980s, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, was repealed completely.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced on Thursday that the ‘disturbed area’ imposed under the AFSPA in the Northeast would be reduced.
The move appears to be in response to the recommendations of a high-level committee set up to look into the possibility of lifting the law following the army’s killing of 14 civilians in Nagaland’s Mon district in a case of “mistaken identity” in December last year.
The AFSPA empowers security forces to conduct operations and arrest anyone without a warrant, as well as providing them with immunity from arrest and prosecution if they kill someone.
In two separate notifications issued late on Thursday, the Union Home Ministry said Dimapur, Niuland, Chumoukedima, Mon, Kiphire, Noklak, Phek, Peren and Zunheboto districts in Nagaland.
And the areas falling within the jurisdiction of police stations of Khuzama, Kohima North, Kohima South, Zubza and Kezocha in the Kohima district.
Mangkolemba, Mokokchung-I, Longtho, Tuli, Longchem and Anaki ‘C’ in Mokokchung district, Yanglok in Longleng district and Bhandari, Champang, Ralan and Sungro in Wokha district were declared as ‘disturbed area’ under the AFSPA for six months with effect from April 1.
Nagaland is divided into 15 districts. Since 1995, the ‘disturbed area’ notification has been in effect throughout Nagaland.
The home ministry in Arunachal Pradesh said Tirap, Changlang, and Longing districts, as well as the areas under the jurisdiction of Namsai and Mahadevour police stations in Namsai district, which borders Assam, have been declared ‘disturbed areas’ under AFSPA for six months starting April 1.
Arunachal Pradesh is divided into 26 districts. The AFSPA has only been in effect in the aforementioned districts of Arunachal Pradesh for several years, and other districts of the state are largely free of insurgency and thus not subject to it.
While for Assam, a notification was issued by the state government, which said that ‘disturbed area’ under the AFSPA has been withdrawn completely from 23 districts and one sub-division of the state’s 33 districts — from Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Majuli, Biswanath, Sonitpur, Nagaon, Hojai, Morigaon.
Kamrup Metro, Darrang, Kamrup, Nalbari, Barpeta, Goalpara, Bongaigaon, Dhubri, South-Salmara Mancachar, Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baka, Udalguri, Karimganj, Hailakandi and Cachar districts, except Lakhimpur sub-division.
The ‘disturbed area’ under the AFSPA will be applicable in nine districts and one sub-division of Assam.
Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Charaideo, Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat, Karbi Anglong, West Karbi Anglong, Dima Hasao districts, and the Cachar district’s Lakhipur sub-division are among them.
Since 1990, the ‘disturbed area’ notification has been in effect throughout Assam.
The government of Manipur has also issued a similar notice, stating that the ‘disturbed area’ tag will no longer be applicable in seven police station areas in the Imphal West district.
Four police station areas in the Imphal East district, and one police station area in each of the districts of Thoubal, Bishnupur, Kakching, and Jiribam. Manipur is divided into 16 districts.
Lamphel, City, Singjamei, Sekmai, Lamsang, and Patsoi (all Imphal West district police stations), Porompat, Heingang, Lamlai, and Irilbung (all Imphal East district police stations), Thoubal (Thoubal district), Bishnupur (Bishnupur district), Kakching (Kakching district), and Jiribam (Jiribam district police station) (Jiribam district).
Since 2004, the ‘disturbed area’ declaration has been in effect throughout Manipur, with the exception of the Imphal municipality area.
For its “draconian” provisions, there have been protests and demands for the law’s complete withdrawal from the Northeast as well as Jammu and Kashmir. Irom Chanu Sharmila, a Manipuri activist, defied the law by going on a 16-year hunger strike, which he ended on August 9, 2016.
Why is AFSPA significant?
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), dubbed “draconian,” gives the military broad powers.
For example, it allows them to open fire, potentially killing anyone who is breaking the law or carrying arms and ammunition, and it gives them the authority to arrest people without warrants on the basis of “reasonable suspicion,” as well as search people’s homes without warrants. It can be imposed on the state or parts of it by the Centre or the Governor of a state after these areas are declared “disturbed” under Section 3.
For nearly 60 years, the Northeast has been under the shadow of AFSPA, creating a sense of isolation from the rest of the country.
The move is expected to aid in the demilitarisation of the region by removing restrictions on movement through checkpoints and residents’ frisking.