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AFSPA-Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958


Background


The AFSPA was introduced in 1947 as a reincarnation of the British-era legislation designed to stifle uprisings during the Quit India movement. In 1948, the ordinances were repealed by an Act, and in 1958, the then-Home Minister, G.B. Pant, put the current statute effective in the Northeast into Parliament. Initially known as the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act, 1958, it was enacted in 1958. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958 provides certain special powers to members of the armed forces in areas in the Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. The powers were also extended to forces deployed in Jammu and Kashmir as well.






What is considered a "disturbed region," and who has the authority to proclaim one?


A disturbed area is one that has been declared in accordance with Section 3 of the AFSPA. Disturbances can occur as a result of disagreements or conflicts between members of various religious, racial, language, or geographical groups, castes, or communities.


The Central Government, the Governor of a State, or the administrator of a Union Territory may proclaim the entire State or Union Territory to be a disturbed region. A proper notice would have to be published in the Official Gazette. According to Section 3, it may be called in instances where "the employment of armed troops in support of civil authority is required."



The Act's Controversy: Human Rights Violations:


Armed forces' employment of these extraordinary powers has frequently resulted in charges of fabricated encounters and other human rights violations by security personnel in conflict areas, raising concerns about the AFSPA's indefinite imposition in certain states, like Nagaland and J&K.The laws regarding human rights implications must likewise be fully comprehended. Many insurgent locations have a reputation for "atrocities" committed by military personnel. Allegations against the counter-insurgency operations must take into consideration the fact that, in the vast majority of cases, the insurgent fires first, conceals behind innocent bystanders, and is only distinguishable by a weapon from a civilian. As in every combat zone, civilians might get hurt or killed in such a situation. In this case, the military should not be held responsible. This does not imply, however, that atrocities or breaches of human rights are acceptable. The distinction should be made between those killed in the heat of combat and those killed in cold blood for accolades or recognition.

Views of the Supreme Court on the Act: In a 1998 decision (Naga People's Movement for Human Rights v. Union of India), the Supreme Court upheld the AFSPA's validity. The Supreme Court concluded in this case that while the federal government may make a suo-motu declaration, it is beneficial for the central government to communicate with the state government prior to making the announcement. The declaration must be limited in duration and subject to periodic review. Six months have passed. While exercising the authority conferred by the AFSPA, the authorised officer should use the least amount of force necessary to carry out his duties effectively.


The Central Government constituted a five-member committee chaired by Justice BP Jeevan Reddy in November 2004 to assess the act's provisions in the northeastern states. The committee suggested that the AFSPA be repealed and that the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 be amended to include relevant measures. The Unlawful Activities Act should be amended to clearly define the armed forces and paramilitary forces' authority, and grievance cells should be established in each area where the armed forces are stationed.


Second ARC Recommendation: The Second Administrative Reforms Commission's (ARC) fifth report on public order also suggested that the AFSPA be repealed. These proposals, however, have not been implemented.


Way forward


Due to countless human rights violations that have happened over the years, the status quo of the act is no longer an acceptable answer. In the regions where it has been implemented, the AFSPA has become an emblem of oppression. As a result, the government must address the impacted people and ensure them that positive action would be taken. Harmony is imperative and bonhomie with the civilian population needs to be maintained via addressing their concerns, the security personnel should be viewed with trust, not suspicion.


The government should explore imposing and repealing AFSPA on a case-by-case basis, and limit its application to a few troubled districts rather than the entire state. The government and security forces should also follow the Supreme Court's, Jeevan Reddy Commission's, and National Human Rights Commission's directives (NHRC).


Because of the extraordinary circumstances in so-called troubled areas, extraordinary measures are adopted. Given the recent controversy surrounding the Act, it is critical that the central government and security forces exhibit caution and restraint.

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