Repeal repressive, mismanaged AFSPA

The proposed partial removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from Assam and Arunachal Pradesh is a welcome step. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs has said it will make the decision after receiving input of the governments in the two states. A decision in this regard is long overdue. An emergency legislation, AFSPA vests the armed forces with extraordinary powers in what are deemed ‘disturbed areas.’ They can shoot at sight, search and arrest without a warrant in such areas. Besides, AFSPA provides soldiers with legal immunity for all actions in the course of an operation. Its critics point out that it has not been successful in quelling insurgencies. Not only has this law’s misuse intensified anger and alienation from the state and thus fuelled insurgencies rather than calming them, but also areas under AFSPA have expanded over the decades. Indeed, AFSPA has remained in force even in areas that are not disturbed. Areas in Assam and Arunachal where the government proposes to lift AFSPA have achieved a semblance of normalcy. There is, therefore, no need for this legislation here or, in fact, anywhere else. Hence, the Centre is taking the right step in withdrawing this law from these areas.

Several government-appointed committees have rightly recommended AFSPA’s dilution, even its repeal. Powerful mass and individual campaigns opposing this law have roiled the restive Northeast for decades. Yet, AFSPA remained in place, because powerful vested interests favoured the status quo. This changed in 2015, when Tripura’s Left Front government revoked AFSPA as the insurgency had waned in the state. Fortunately, the Centre has taken its cue from Tripura. It must take this further to lift this law from other parts of the Northeast that have moved away from violence as well.

Any decision to impose AFSPA will have far-reaching implications. The Act has been observed more in its misuse and mismanagement. So, a review of the Act is a must leading to its repeal. This also means that the government should desist from imposing the Act on any new area. Lifting or reimposing AFSPA for political or electoral considerations is a dangerous path to tread. It is worrying that following violent clashes with the Left Front in the state, the BJP is demanding reimposition of AFSPA in Tripura. The Left Front-ruled state is due to go to the polls in February. Is the BJP’s demand for AFSPA aimed at discrediting the Left Front government to win votes? The govern­ment must desist from taking a decision in favour of imposing what is known as a draconian Act.

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