- Introduction on AFSPA.
- Mention the special features of AFSPA (state app. Sections)
- Briefly mention the opposition to this Act.
- Explain the need for AFSPA’s continuance.
- Conclusion stating few cases of AFSPA withdrawal, significance in protecting integrity and need for safeguards.
The Armed Forces Special Power Act was introduced in 1958 in the NE through an ordinance – thus, a colonial conceptualization. Through a series of Acts, the Indian Parliament reintroduced it in all 7 sister states of NE in 1972, and then put into operation in Punjab (1983) and J&K (1990). It empowers the Armed Forces to maintain public order in ‘disturbed areas’.
Some special features of AFSPA : (a) Section 3 empowers the Governor of a state / Administrator of UT to notify any area in the Gazette as ‘disturbed area’. Once declared, it must stay for minimum 3 months. So, Governor/Administrator carries astounding powers in recommending AFSPA imposition; (b) Section 4 legitimizes the forces to enter & search any place/premises without warrant and if needed, the place & equipments can be destroyed. It also empowers the forces to shoot at the assembled crowd in case of imminent danger, and allows them to arrest anyone without warrant & confine them by use of force. Armed forces can even shoot any individual who violates or is suspected to violate law; (c) Section 6 provides immunity to the Armed Forces personnel from legal prosecution in case any innocent gets caught in the fire.
Why the Act is opposed?: it has irked criticism because of the impunity it provides against human rights abuses, violence & infringement of Fundamental Rights. Its relevance is also questioned in the light of Art. 4 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The 5th Report of 2nd ARC on Public Order had also recommended repeal of the Act. Santosh Hedge Report while acknowledging the presence of insurgency, remarked that AFSPA has become a symbol of oppression and thereby, advocated its progressive withdrawal through de-notification of areas under Section 3, only to be reconsidered upon serious law & order regression.
Need for AFSPA’s continuance?: India’s heterogeneous character has often tried to peril its integrity by attempting to cede from ‘Bharat’ or by trying to flame instability through various means of disruptions. E.g., J& K as a state had remained embroiled in many anti-national movements, often encouraged by hostile Pakistan. Till now, there remains secessionist activities & insurgency in NE states like Nagaland, Manipur, etc. AFSPA has never been opted as the first choice – it was resorted to when the police & its attached instruments were found incapable of tiding the situation. The Armed Forces is summoned by the civil administration when situation goes out of hand – thus, AFSPA symbolizes a debilitated & flaccid civil administration with an incapacitated force at its disposal. The Armed forces did not go to seek an enlargement of its ambit of obligations.
Our Armed Forces are well trained and sensitive, who are responsible for maintaining India’s unity, territorial integrity & sovereignty. However, mistakes do happen by most professional forces. This has made AFSA a ‘double edged sword’.
The Supreme Court had upheld the constitutionality of AFSPA in 1998, besides directing its operation for a limited period with periodic review once in 6 months. In 2015, AFSPA was withdrawn after 18 years from Tripura due to consistent dip in insurgent activities. Recently, in 2022, the ‘disturbed area’ status has been partially removed in Manipur. Significantly, AFSPA’s withdrawal in a phased manner in Nagaland has started from April 2022. So, there is no denying that if the Armed Forces were not used with dexterity with a supporting Act providing immunity, the resulting situation would have been frustrating for India’s unity & territorial integrity. The Supreme Court had laid down the binding do’s & don’ts in the Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights judgement, of which any disregard is punishable.