In a visit to Assam, Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said the gradual process of removing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) has been underway since the last three to four years and that it is the result of durable peace and stability in the region.
The Union government had earlier 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 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AFSPA had been lifted from only 15 police stations, including the six within the Greater Imphal area and it was withdrawn in the previous Congress regime. In the latest order, nine more police stations, including Sekmai, Lamsang, Bishnupur, Patsoi, Lamlai, Irilbung, Thoubal, Kakching and Jiribam all in the valley districts has been excluded from AFSPA operations.
In Assam, AFSPA was withdrawn from 23 districts while in Manipur and Nagaland it was withdrawn from 15 police stations each. To the Indian establishment, it was a big move given the objections from the defence lobby against its removal. However, it was not enough for the people of the region who had suffered under the shadow of the Act.
The Act remains in force in all the hill districts irrespective of whether it adjoins the international boundary or not.
We agree that it is a big step forward for the Narendra Modi-led government from the security perspective and a promise before elections partially fulfilled. But, we must say such partial removal is discriminatory in a sense and one has to analyse the internal dynamics of the states also while formulating policies and taking decisions.
The recent decision of removing the Act from the valley region, while leaving out the hill districts does not augur well for both the government and community relations also. And the BJP government here has to go an extra mile in explaining the central government decision. There is every possibility of the hill based CSOs asking as to how the state government had not been able to convince the central government with regard to removal of the Act from the hill areas.
There is also merit in favour of the hill areas also. There is an ongoing ceasefire with NSCN IM and Suspension of Operation (SoO) with the Kuki militant groups. Although insurgency activities had reduce to a great extent in the valley areas, there is still no feasible signs of starting peace process with the valley based insurgent organisations except with some fringe groups.
The central government decision to remove the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from certain districts in Nagaland, Assam and Manipur comes in the backdrop of vociferous demands from various states in the Northeast to remove AFSPA.
In 2004, the Jeevan Reddy Committee set up by then Manmohan Singh government had recommended the repeal of AFSPA. 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.
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.
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 lifting of the Act from the Greater Imphal area which has seven assembly constituencies, and the formation of Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee.