The union government will remove the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from some of the districts in Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. “In a significant step, GoI under the decisive leadership of PM Shri @NarendraModi Ji has decided to reduce disturbed areas under Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the states of Nagaland, Assam and Manipur after decades,” Union Home Minister Amit Shah said in a tweet today.
The union government’s decision comes after more than a decade of this demand from states in the Northeast to remove AFSPA, which reached a crescendo after the accidental killing of over a dozen civilians in District Mon of Nagaland in late 2021.
Shah said that the reduction in the number of districts under AFSPA was “a result of the improved security situation and fast-tracked development due to the consistent efforts and several agreements to end insurgency and bring lasting peace in the Northeast under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi”.
“Thanks to PM Modi’s unwavering commitment, our northeastern region, which was neglected for decades, is now witnessing a new era of peace, prosperity and unprecedented development. I congratulate the people of Northeast on this momentous occasion,” the union home minister said.
Sources in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said the withdrawal will come into effect beginning 1 April. In Assam, where AFSPA has been in force since 1990, the ‘Disturbed Area’ tag will be removed completely from 23 districts and partially from one district.
In Manipur, where civil society organisations and activists have long fought for the law’s repeal, 15 police station areas of six districts will no longer be in the purview of the act.
In Nagaland, the union government has accepted the recommendation of a high-level committee formed in the aftermath of Mon killing to withdraw AFSPA in a phased manner, the MHA said. That is, the Disturbed Area Notification is being withdrawn from 15 police stations in seven districts in Nagaland with effect from tomorrow.
Welcoming the development, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said that around 60% of the state’s area will now be free from AFSPA’s purview. “AFSPA has been in force since 1990 and this move marks the beginning of a new chapter in Assam’s future. It is a testimony to the significant improvement in law and order in the State,” Sarma tweeted.
Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio said that he was “grateful” to the government of India for the move. “This is a significant development towards bringing stability, security & prosperity to the North East region,” Rio tweeted.
Recently sworn into office for a second term, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh called it a “historic decision”, saying it was a “result of the robust development and improved security situation” under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “This decision will lead to a new era of peace, prosperity and development in Manipur yet again,” he tweeted.
The government had set up a committee to look into the demand for the removal of AFSPA from Nagaland in the wake of the Mon killings last year. The committee was supposed to submit its report this month. It is not yet clear if the report has been submitted.
Even as the committee deliberated on the issue, the Centre had extended the imposition of the law in the state by six months in the state last December.
The imposition of AFSPA in Nagaland was due to expire on 31 December, as it was last extended in the state on June 30. AFSPA can be imposed in an area or a region for six months at a time, after which it has to be extended if the government deems it necessary.
On 26 December, the union government set up a high-level committee chaired by a secretary-level officer to examine the possibility of withdrawing AFSPA in Nagaland. The committee was given a deadline of three months.
The committee was set up following protests over the botched up operation in the Mon district of Nagaland on 4 December, in which six coal miners were killed. After the incident, the Nagaland Assembly passed a resolution for the repeal of AFSPA.
The committee is headed by Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India Vivek Joshi, and includes Additional Secretary in the Union Home Ministry Piyush Goyal, as well as the Chief Secretary and Director General of Police, Nagaland, and the DGP, Assam Rifles, as members.
In 2004, the Jeevan Reddy Committee set up by then Manmohan Singh government had recommended the repeal of AFSPA. Following this, a Cabinet sub-committee was formed to examine the matter. However, the Modi government rejected the recommendations of the Reddy committee and the Cabinet sub-committee was also dissolved.
Since then, no committee either regarding the repeal of AFSPA as a whole or with regard to removing it from any state has been formed. Sources in the ministry said AFSPA is imposed or removed in a state fully or partially by the government after due consultation with the state governments, armed forces and the central agencies.
“Due to the continuous efforts of the Central Government… many such steps have been taken in the Northeastern states, which have led to a significant improvement in the security situation and accelerated development. In comparison to 2014, there has been a reduction of 74 per cent in militancy incidents in 2021. Similarly, deaths of security personnel and civilians have also come down by 60% and 84% respectively during this period,” the MHA statement said.
Notably, Shah has been holding dialogue with all the states of the Northeast on a regular basis not only to resolve boundary disputes but also to bring insurgent groups to the mainstream. “As a result, most of the extremist groups have laid down their arms expressing their faith in the Constitution of India and the policies of the Modi government. Today, all these persons have become a part of the democratic process and are participating in the development of the Northeast. About 7,000 militants have surrendered in the last few years,” the MHA statement said.
AFSPA is imposed in a state or a district only for six months, following which it has to be reviewed. “This is done after taking opinion from states, defence forces and the central agencies. The entire process takes place under the supervision of the home secretary,” an official explained.
Earlier the Modi government has removed AFSPA entirely from Meghalaya and partially from Arunachal Pradesh. In March, 2018, the MHA ordered removal of AFSPA from Meghalaya completely and from eight police station areas bordering Assam in Arunachal Pradesh. A year later, this was further reduced to just four police stations. Arunachal currently has three districts with AFSPA apart from these four police stations.
In the last three years, according to the MHA, the government has signed several agreements to end insurgencies and bring lasting peace to the northeastern states. These include the Bodo Accord of January 2020, which resolved the five decades-long Bodo problem of Assam; and the Karbi-Anglong Agreement of 4 September 2021, which resolved the longstanding dispute over the Karbi region of Assam. Similarly, the NLFT (SD) agreement was signed in August 2019 to bring militants into the mainstream in Tripura. After that, a historic agreement was signed on 16 January 2020 to resolve the 23-year-old Bru-Reang refugee crisis, under which, 37,000 internally displaced persons are being resettled in Tripura. On 29 March, another important agreement was signed regarding the boundaries of Assam and Meghalaya which resolved six of the 12 pending disputes.