In a landmark decision, the Tripura government has decided to lift the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from the state where the controversial law was in effect for the last 18 years to tackle militancy.
The Manik Sarkar-led Left Front government in Tripura, the smallest state in the Northeast and the only one under Communist rule, in a cabinet decision on Wednesday withdrew AFSPA from the state.
As per the provisions of the Act which was introduced in the country in 1958, it was reviewed and extended every six months. AFSPA term ends in Tripura this month; thus the state government has decided not to extend it any more.
In the past five years, Tripura has seen a rapid decline in militancy with hundreds of militants surrendering and joining the mainstream. The ruling Left Front which has been in power since 1993 has been contemplating to withdraw the draconian law. Opposition parties including the Congress and the BJP are also in favour of withdrawal of AFSPA.
“In view of the significant taming of militancy in Tripura, the Cabinet decided to withdraw the AFSPA from the entire state. We want a message of peace to go to the entire country,” Chief Minister Manik Sarkar said in Agartala.
According to sources in the Home Ministry, there were talks on the issue for the last few months for possible withdrawl of AFSPA. “The security forces recently exhaustively reviewed the law and order situation in the state. Considering the reports of the security forces, the council of ministers decided to recommend to the Union Home Ministry to issue a notification to withdraw the AFSPA,” Sarkar added.
Sarkar also informed that his home department (he holds the home portfolio) would allow plying of vehicle till 10 pm at night on the national highway 44 that links the landlocked state to the rest of the country.
AFSPA has been in force in 30 police station areas in Tripura. It was fully operational in 26 police station areas and partially in four. The law was first enforced in Tripura in February 1997, when militancy was at its peak and militants could easily use the 854 km long border with Bangladesh.
The decision is significant as AFSPA is also enforced in Manipur (excluding Imphal Municipal Council area), Assam and Nagaland and in several districts of Arunachal Pradesh.
Rights groups have been vocal against the misuse of the law by the security forces against innocent civilians. There is also a longstanding resentment against AFSPA in Jammu and Kashmir.