The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act was enacted in 1958 to bring under control what the government of India considered ‘disturbed’ areas. The Tripura government on Thursday decided to lift the controversial law which according to a Press Trust of India report “was in effect for the last 18 years to curb insurgency.”
The Act has often faced flak from human rights groups as it gave sweeping powers and immunity to the army in conflict-ridden areas.
As of now, according to the home ministry, six more states come under the ambit of this law under various conditions. Here is a simple explainer to make sense of it all:
Which other states are under AFSPA right now?
Assam, Nagaland, Manipur (except the Imphal municipal area), Arunachal Pradesh (only the Tirap, Changlang and Longding districts plus a 20-km belt bordering Assam), Meghalaya (confined to a 20-km belt bordering Assam) and Jammu and Kashmir.
The government (either the state or centre) considers those areas to be ‘disturbed’ “by reason of differences or disputes between members of different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities.”
How does one officially declare a region to be ‘disturbed’?
Section (3) of the AFSPA Act empowers the governor of the state or Union territory to issue an official notification on The Gazette of India, following which the centre has the authority to send in armed forces for civilian aid. It is still unclear whether the governor has to prompt the centre to send in the army or whether the centre on its own sends in troops.
Once declared ‘disturbed’, the region has to maintain status quo for a minimum of three months, according to The Disturbed Areas (Special Courts) Act, 1976.
What about the state government’s role?
The state governments, as in Tripura’s case, can suggest whether the Act is required to be enforced or not. But under Section (3) of the Act, their opinion can still be overruled by the governor or the centre.
Is the Act uniform in nature?
No. Originally, it came into being as an ordinance in 1958 and within months was repealed and passed as an Act. But, this was meant only for Assam and Manipur, where there was insurgency by Naga militants. But after the northeastern states were reorganized in 1971, the creation of new states (some of them union territories originally) like Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh paved the way for the AFSPA Act to be amended, so that it could be applied to each of them. They may contain different sections as applicable to the situation in each state.
What about Jammu and Kashmir? There were reports saying that it technically wasn’t a disturbed area after 1998.
This is a bit more complex. Jammu and Kashmir (as with a lot of things) has a separate legislation for this—its own Disturbed Areas Act (DAA) which came into existence in 1992. So, as this Indian Express article points out, even if the DAA for J&K lapsed in 1998, the government reasoned that the state can still be declared disturbed under Section(3) of AFSPA.
Is Tripura then the first state to completely do away with AFSPA?
No. It was applied in Punjab and Chandigarh in 1983 due to secessionist movements and lasted for 14 years until there 1997. What is interesting was that while the Punjab government withdrew its DAA in 2008, it continued in Chandigarh till September 2012 when the Punjab and Haryana high court struck it down following a petition filed by a local member of the Janata Dal (United).