The Centre has decided to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from 7 out of 16 districts in Nagaland, 23 out of 33 districts in Assam and 6 out of 16 districts in Manipur. It will be partially lifted in another district in Assam. Afspa grants security forces wide powers of arrest, the right to shoot to kill and to occupy or destroy property as part of counterinsurgency operations.
In a case of ‘mistaken identity’ last December 14, innocent civilians were killed by the Army in Nagaland, where Afspa was in operation. Following the incident, the Centre set up a committee to review the law, described as draconian by rights activists. “The government accepted the recommendation of a committee for withdrawal of Afspa in a phased manner,” a statement issued by the Union home ministry on Thursday said.
“In a significant step, GoI. . . has decided to reduce disturbed areas under Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the states of Nagaland, Assam and Manipur after decades,” home minister Amit Shah said in a tweet. Reduction of areas under Afspa followed ‘improved security situation’ and ‘fast-tracked development’ due to ‘consistent efforts’ and several agreements to end insurgency and bring lasting peace in northeast by the Modi government, he said. According to the ministry, there has been a reduction of 74% in militancy in 2021 while death of security personnel and civilians was down by 60% and 84%, respectively, during the period.
Afspa will continue in Assam’s Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Charaideo, Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat, Karbi Anglong, West Karbi Anglong, Dima Hasao and Lakhipur subdivision of Cachar district, chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said in Guwahati on Thursday. A unified command structure would continue in nine districts and one subdivision. The Army will move out of the districts from where Afspa is lifted but will continue to gather intelligence and be ready for deployment if required, he said.
“There will be no Afspa in 60% of Assam,” he said. “There will be no Afspa in central, lower and northern Assam. It will be operational only in hill districts and upper Assam as the situation is yet to improve to the satisfaction of the government,” he said.
Afspa is likely to continue in 3 districts of Arunachal and 2 police stations of another district bordering Assam. “Home minister Amit Shah held dialogue with all states, as a result of which most extremist groups laid down arms expressing their faith in the Constitution of India. About 7,000 militants surrendered in the last few years,” an MHA statement said. Manipur CM N Biren Singh, his Tripura counterpart Biplab Kumar Deb and Nagaland counterpart Neiphiu Rio welcomed the Centre's announcement.
The Act has been in force in Assam since 1990. AFSPA was invoked in 2004 in the whole of Manipur, except the Imphal municipality area. It will now be applicable in 10 districts covering 82 police stations.