The Centre has decided to further reduce areas under the ambit of the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland from April 1 in view of “significant improvement in the security situation in the Northeast”.
AFSPA gives unbridled power to the armed forces operating in designated disturbed areas to search, arrest and shoot.
Civil society groups and student organisations in the region have been seeking the removal of AFSPA, which they see as “draconian”. Sustained protests over the civilian killings in Nagaland’s Oting during a botched counter-intelligence operation in December 2021 had led to a reduction in areas under AFSPA last year.
Reacting to Saturday’s development, Union home minister Amit Shah said it was a “historic day” for the Northeast.
“PM @narendramodi led GoI has once again decided to decrease the disturbed areas in Nagaland, Assam and Manipur under the AFSPA. This decision has been taken on account of significant improvement in the security situation in North-East India,” Shah tweeted.
According to a ministry of home affairs statement issued on Saturday, AFSPA had been removed in Assam from April 1, 2022, except for nine districts, including a subdivision. “And from 01.04.2023 it has been reduced to only 8 districts,” the statement said.
Sources said Lakhipur sub-division of Cachar district had been exempted from the ambit of AFSPA, which had been imposed on the whole of Assam in 1990.
Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma tweeted: “This second reduction, in less than a year, is reflective that the governance model led by Hon PM @narendramodi ji rests on the twin pillars of decisiveness and responsiveness.”
In Manipur, the number of police stations and districts from where AFSPA will be withdrawn from April 1 has gone up to 19 and 7, respectively. The exemption is for six months.
Last year, 15 police stations from 6 of the 16 districts of Manipur were exempted from the Act, which is in operation in the state since 2004 except in the Imphal municipality area.
Manipur chief minister N. Biren Singh tweeted: “ AFPSA REPEALED FROM AREAS UNDER THE JURISDICTION OF WANGOI, LEIMAKHONG, NAMBOL & MOIRANG POLICE STATIONS. With significant improvement in the law & order situation in the state, the GoI has decided to remove the AFSPA 1958 from areas falling under the jurisdiction of 19 PS.”
The 19 police stations are located in Imphal West, Imphal East, Thoubal, Bishnupur, Kangpokpi, Kakching and Jiribam.
AFSPA is being withdrawn from three more police stations in Nagaland from April 1, taking the number of police stations and districts exempted to 18 and 8, respectively. The exemption is for six months.
Last year, AFSPA had been withdrawn from 15 police station areas located in seven of Nagaland’s 16 districts. The Act had been in place in the whole of Nagaland since 1995.
The Union home ministry statement said effective steps taken by the central government had led to a significant improvement in the security situation in the Northeast and the pace of development had increased, leading to the “important decision” of further reducing areas under AFSPA.
“Compared to the year 2014, there is a reduction of 76% in the extremist incidents in the year 2022. Similarly, the deaths of security personnel and civilians have come down by 90% and 97% respectively during this period....,” the statement said.