IFP Editorial: AFSPA remains in force in all the hill districts of Manipur irrespective of whether it adjoins the international boundary. So, the reduction of AFSPA is discriminatory.
Updated 1 Apr 2022, 6:41 pm
On March 31, Union Home Minister Amit Shah made an announcement that the Centre has decided to remove the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from certain districts in Nagaland, Assam and Manipur. The decision comes in the backdrop of vociferous demands from various states in the Northeast to remove AFSPA following the killing of over a dozen civilians in Mon district of Nagaland in 2021.
Although the decision has been hailed in many quarters, those who had been demanding its repeal were somewhat disappointed by the partial removal. Renewed calls for repeal of AFSPA came after a botched-up Army operation resulted in the deaths of 13 civilians in the Tiru-Oting area in Mon district of Nagaland on December 4. An inquiry has been conducted by the Army's Eastern Command to ensure that justice is delivered to all the affected parties.
The defence lobby had always been at the forefront of opposing the withdrawal of AFSPA from areas where it is in force and states have always been reluctant to go against the lobby. 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 repeal of AFSPA as a whole or with regard to removing it from any state has been formed.
The Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Verrappa Moily also recommended repeal of the Act in 2008. Thereafter, the Supreme Court appointed the Justice Santosh Hegde committee to investigate encounter killings in Manipur based on a writ petition filed by the Extra-Judicial Execution Victim Families Association, Manipur (EEVFAM) in 2012. The commission also said the law needs to be reviewed every six months to see whether its implementation is actually necessary in states where it is being enforced.
However, these review meetings turned out to be a routine exercise always overwhelmed by security considerations and further extension of the Act. 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.
Manipur had never demanded withdrawal but repeal, as was the demand of the Iron Lady Irom Chanu Sharmila. Besides Irom Chanu Sharmila’s 16 yearlong lone battle of indefinite hunger strike, the state of Manipur witnessed an unprecedented movement against AFSPA in 2004.
On 15 July 2004, 12 Meira Paibi leaders had disrobed in front of the historic Kangla Fort in the heart of Imphal, the then headquarters of the Assam Rifles, protesting against the brutal killing of Manorama Thangjam, a 32-year-old woman.
The anti-AFSPA movement ignited by the Manorama incident not only led to the lifting of the Act from the Greater Imphal area which has seven assembly constituencies, and the formation of the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee.
Earlier, the government had 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 Pradesh currently has three districts with AFSPA apart from these four police stations. Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has said that AFSPA would be withdrawn from 60 per cent of Assam from Thursday midnight. In the case of Manipur, AFSPA had been lifted from only 15 police stations, including the six within the Greater Imphal area and it was withdrawn in the previous Congress regime. Now, none more police stations, including Sekmai, Lamsang, Bishnupur, Patsoi, Lamlai, Irilbung, Thoubal, Kakching and Jiribam all in the valley districts have been excluded from AFSPA operations.
The Act remains in force in all the hill districts irrespective of whether it adjoins the international boundary. So, the reduction of AFSPA is discriminatory.