The Union government has extended the Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act (AFSPA) in Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. At the same time, the AFSPA has been removed from several areas in Northeast India.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Saturday hailed the removal of AFSPA from many areas in Manipur, Nagaland, and Assam, and appreciated the security situation in the Northeast India under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On Friday, the Union government extended AFSPA in parts of Arunachal and Nagaland for six more months. The AFSPA allows the security services to detain, arrest, and use fatal force without any warrant. For actions taken in areas under AFSPA, the security personnel involved cannot be prosecuted without the explicit sanction of the Union government.
In two separate notifications, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Friday extended AFSPA for six months in four districts of Arunachal and 13 districts of Nagaland by terming them as "disturbed areas".
While in Arunachal, three districts are covered under AFSPA entirely, only three police station jurisdictions are covered in the fourth district of Namsai. Similarly in Nagaland, while nine districts are covered entirely under AFSPA, only 16 police station jurisdictions in four other districts are covered.
What did Amit Shah say?
A day after the notifications extending AFSPA, Shah lauded the security situation in Northeast India and said it was for the first time that a government "prioritised security, peace and development" in the region. He also hailed the reduction of disturbed areas in the region.
He said, "A historic day for the Northeast! PM Narendra Modi-led Government of India has once again decided to decrease the disturbed areas in Nagaland, Assam, and Manipur under the AFSPA. This decision has been taken on account of significant improvement in the security situation in North-East India.
"For the first time in India's history, PM Narendra Modi Ji prioritised security, peace, and development in the North East. As a result of it, the region today is rapidly heading on the path of peace and development.
"I express my gratitude to PM Narendra Modi Ji for bringing this positive change in the lives of the people of North East and connecting the region with the hearts of the rest of India. Congratulations to our sisters and brothers of the Northeast on this momentous occasion."
Reduction of AFSPA areas in Northeast
In the past one year, the Modi government has reduced areas covered under AFSPA in Northeast India. Now this removal has been extended to more areas.
In Assam, the disturbed area notification has been in force since 1990. On April 1, 2022, officials said the disturbed area tag under the AFSPA was removed from the entire state of Assam except nine districts and one sub-division of one district. Now it has been limited to only eight districts in Assam.
In Manipur, except the Imphal municipality area, the entire state was declared a disturbed area in 2004 and it has been in force since then. On April 1, 2022, 15 police station areas of six districts were freed from the ambit of the AFSPA. Now, AFSPA will cease to exit in four other police station jurisdictions in seven districts from April 1, 2023. With this, the disturbed area tag would be removed from a total of 19 police station areas in seven districts of the state.
In Nagaland, the AFSPA has been in force in Nagaland since 1995. It was removed from 15 police station areas of seven districts from April 1, 2022. Now AFSPA has been removed from three other police station areas with effect from April 1, 2023, the officials said. With this, the disturbed area tag has been removed from a total of 18 police station areas in eight districts of Nagaland.
Areas still under AFSPA
The two notifications issued by the Union Home Ministry on Friday list the areas in which the AFSPA has been extended for six more months in Arunachal and Nagaland.
In Arunachal, three districts of Tirap, Changlang, and Longding are covered under AFSPA entirely under AFSPA. Additionally, only three police station jurisdictions of Namsai district are covered.
Similarly in Nagaland, nine districts are covered entirely under AFSPA and only 16 police station jurisdictions in four other districts are covered.
The districts covered entirely are: Dimapur, Niuland, Chumoukedima, Mon, Kiphire, Noklak, Phek, and Peren.
Additionally, specific police station jurisdictions covered under AFSPA in Nagaland are: i) Khuzama, Kohima North, Kohima South, Zubza and Kezocha police stations in Kohima District; ii) Mangkolemba, Mokokchung-I, Longtho, Tuli, Longchem and Anaki ‘C’ police stations in Mokokchung District; iii) Yanglok police station in Longleng District; iv) Bhandari, Champang and Ralan police stations in Wokha District; and v) Ghatashi, Pughoboto, Satakha, Suruhuto, Zunheboto and Aghunato police stations in Zunheboto District.
Notably, while the notification S.O. 4621 (E) says "9 districts and 16 Police Stations in 4 other districts" are covered under AFSPA, the list mentioned in the same notification mentions eight districts in entirely and five districts partially.
AFSPA a contentious issue
In Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and Northeast India, the AFSPA is a contentious and unpopular law as it allows security services to operate without the risk of prosecution or requirement of a warrant. There have been repeated calls to repeal the law over the years.
It has long been alleged that human rights violations and extrajudicial arrests and killings take place under the garb of AFSPA. A string of incidents in recent years have highlightede these concerns, ranging from the Mon killings to the fake encounter in Shopian in J&K.
In December 2021, a total of 14 civilians were killed in and after a botched Indian Army operation, according to MHA. A team of Indian Army's para commandos had laid an ambush on 4 December near Tiru village based on intelligence inputs of insurgents’ movement in the area, as per Shah. However, the Army personnel killed civilians instead of militants. Six civilians were killed on the spot and eight more killed in following clashes. One serviceman was also killed.
In J&K's Shopian in 2020, three men were killed in what was then alleged to be a fake encounter. In a rare act of conviction, an Army Captain was sentenced to life for these killings. The Wire reported that the court has held that Captain Bhoopendra Singh of the Army’s 62 Rashtriya Rifles "exceeded powers vested under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act".
(With PTI inputs)