“Stop killing unarmed civilians,” a placard was seen in the foothills of Nagaland soon after the tragic killing of civilians by military personnel in Mon district in the state. The slogan in the placard is a reflection of the dissent of the people in the region, especially the North Eastern States towards the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
After 13 civilian were killed in Mon, the focus has once again shifted on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. Chief Ministers of Nagaland and Meghalaya, political parties, tribal bodies, civil society organisations and armed groups have come out against the Act, calling for its repeal. They all have voiced against the Act, which they allege to be against human rights and only creates discontent among the people.
The ill-fated incident happened on December 4. The Army, which had some information about anti insurgent forces in the area, shot down six coal miners returning home, apparently mistaking them for militants. After the incident, the Army again resorted to firing when an angry mob closed in on army vehicles, killing one soldier. In the firing seven civilians were killed. The next day, when the protesting crowd attacked an Assam Rifles camp in the district headquarters of Mon, the security personnel shot again that led to the death of one more civilian.
The recent Mon incident and other incidents in recent times only reflect that the Centre has not come out successful in bringing peace with the insurgents in the region. A few weeks before the shootings at Mon, militant groups ambushed an Assam Rifles convoy in Manipur that killed five soldiers as well as the wife and son of the commanding officer.
Despite initiatives in bringing the armed groups into the negotiating table, the incidents only show that the Centre has certain limitations. Though the Militant groups have been thrashed, there are still some loopholes that need to be plugged.
Despite all efforts, no political solution or settlement has been reached in the North Eastern States. It is known that the government in 2015 signed a secretive framework agreement for a final political settlement with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah faction), the largest Naga armed group. Though other Naga groups joined the talks, a final political settlement is still awaited with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim and the Government still argue on the question of a separate Naga flag and constitution as well as what “shared sovereignty”, mentioned in the framework agreement, really means.
ARMED FORCES (SPECIAL POWERS) ACT
Before going into what AFSPA is, let us look at the dissent notes of various committees against the Act. The Justice BP Jeevan Reddy Committee (2004), appointed by the Centre to review the Armed Forces (Special Powers) of 1958, recommended that it be repealed. The Administrative Reforms Commission in its fifth report also demanded the same.
One of the main criticisms against the Act is that this Act gave all powers to the security forces, despite the Act being formed to maintain law and order.
AFSPA AND ITS ENACTMENT
AFSPA was enacted in 1958. According to the Centre, the Act was necessitated by the law order situation in the northeastern states where state governments and local authorities were found to be “incapable” of dealing with disturbances in the region. The Act passed by both the Houses of Parliament in 1958 was initially enacted to cover Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Nagaland. However, some states and areas have been removed from its purview now.
POWERS ENSHRINED IN THE ACT
According to the Act, a “disturbed area’ is any area in a state or Union Territory to which this Act extends where the governor of the administrator “is of the opinion that the whole or any part of such state or UT… is in such a disturbed or dangerous condition that the use of armed forces in aid of the civil power is necessary”.
The AFSPA says that “any commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or any other person of equivalent rank in the armed forces may”, among other things, “fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death” against any person who violates law or order in a disturbed area.
Moreover, the officers can arrest without warrant any person in connection with the commission of a cognisable offence or even on the “reasonable suspicion that he has committed or is about to commit a cognisable offence”. The officers are also permitted to “destroy” any structure or shelter from which armed attacks are made or are likely to be made or are attempted to be made. The security personnel can “enter and search without warrant any premises”.
Another striking aspect is that the Act grants immunity from prosecution for actions carried out in “disturbed areas” by security forces.