Rethink on AFSPA in Arunachal

The Union Home Minister recently assured a delegation of the All-Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union that his Ministry would look into the demand for lifting the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from the State.

  • The Home Ministry, through a March 27 notification, had ordered that the AFSPA be extended to all the districts of Arunachal Pradesh bordering Assam, triggering strong opposition from the State government.

Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act:

  • It is an Act empowering armed forces to deal effectively in ‘Disturbed Areas’. Any area which is declared ‘Disturbed’ under the disturbed areas act enables armed forces to resort to the provisions of AFSPA.

Who declares an area as disturbed?

  • The choice of declaring any area as ‘disturbed’ vests both with state and central government. Special powers provided to armed forces:
    • After an area comes under the ambit of AFSPA, any commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or another person of equivalent rank can use force for a variety of reasons while still being immune to the prosecution.

Ambit:

  • The act was passed on 11 September 1958 by the parliament of India to provide special legal security to the armed forces carrying out operations in the troubled areas of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura (seven sisters).
  • In 1990 the act was extended to the state of Jammu and Kashmir to confront the rising insurgency in the area.
  • In Manipur, despite opposition from the Central government, state government withdrew the Act in some parts in Aug, 2004.

The government can declare AFSPA in the following conditions:

  • When the local administration fails to deal with local issues and the police proves inefficient to cope with them.
  • When the scale of unrest or instability in the state is too large for the police to handle.

Legal provisions of AFSPA:

In an area declared, “disturbed” an army officer is legally free to carry out following operations:

  • Fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law” against “assembly of five or more persons” or possession of deadly weapons.
  • Destroy any shelter (private or govt.) from which armed attacks are made or likely to be made or attempted to be made.
  • Arrest any person without warrant 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.
  • Enter and search, without warrant, any premises for purpose of arrest or to recover any person, arms, explosives.
  • To search and seize any vehicle suspected to be carrying an offender or any person against whom any reasonable suspicion exists that he has or is about to commit an offence.
  • To provide legal immunity to the army personnel found involved in any violation or ethical breach i.e., they cannot be sued or prosecuted.

Why do armed forces need AFSPA?

  • The forces are aware that they cannot afford to fail when called upon to safeguard the country’s integrity.
  • Hence, they require the minimum legislation that is essential to ensure efficient utilization of combat capability. This includes safeguards from legal harassment and empowerment of its officers to decide on employment of the minimum force that they consider essential.
  • The absence of such a legal statute would adversely affect organizational flexibility and the utilization of the security capacity of the state. This would render the security forces incapable of fulfilling their assigned role.
  • Common people see it as ‘Right to Kill’ Act. Since its inception many Human Rights organizations and civil societies have been opposing it for the following reasons:
  • It makes no distinction between a peaceful gathering of five or more people and a berserk mob.
  • The law also states that, “no prosecution can be initiated against an officer without the previous sanction of the Central government”.
  • The decision of the government to declare a particular area ‘disturbed’ cannot be challenged in a court of law.
  • In 2005 the Jeevan Reddy Commission said that AFSPA should be repealed and the clauses that are required should be included in other Acts.

Sources: The Hindu, PIB, ET, NDTV.

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