The Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 was first enacted to fight Naga insurgency; later, its scope was expanded to cover other regions facing insurgency. The law empowers the armed forces to “shoot to kill” and “arrest without warrant on suspicion” in areas declared as ‘disturbed‘. The law gives certain discretionary powers to armed forces and also protects them from judicial prosecution for their actions.
The authority to declare an area in a state as ‘disturbed’ lies with the Governor of the State, and the Ministry of Home Affairs of the Union Government.
Extent of application of AFSPA:
- Presently, AFSPA is active in
- 5 states of Northeast: Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram
- Jammu and Kashmir
- Earlier, AFSPA was active in
- Punjab – from 1983 to 1997, due to secessionist movements.
- Tripura (until 2015).
- Meghalaya ( until 2018).
- In April 2018, AFSPA was lifted from the whole of Meghalaya, and from parts of Arunachal Pradesh.
Criticisms of AFSPA
AFSPA is criticised for its limited success in the areas it has been active in. Surely, it has helped in containing the insurgency, but it has had limited success in restoring normalcy to the regions. It has also caused unrest and discontent among people on account of violation of individual rights.
Among the most popular critics of AFSPA is Irom Sharmila, who is known as the Iron Lady of Manipur for her 16-year hunger strike against against AFSPA.
Way forward: Should AFSPA be repealed?
The Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee 2004, appointed by the government to review AFSPA, recommended repealing of AFSPA.
Opinion: Killings and human rights violations have occurred due to misapplication of AFSPA, but the problems posed by an array of internal and external agents necessitate an act with teeth to deal with the situation. The act needs to continue, however, with more humane provisions so that the state does not intrude into the rights of the people. Armed forces should be sensitised to act with more responsibility, specially while dealing with civilian activists and protesters.
The Government of India aims to water down the provisions and revoke the applicability of AFSPA in phases, as and when the situations allows feasibility of such actions. In 2018, AFSPA was withdrawn completely from Meghalaya, and partly from Arunachal Pradesh. Eminent persons from major political parties have expressed their opinion about watering down the act to make it less stringent, and more effective.