Areas under AFSPA control in Northeast reduced; Chief Ministers laud move

Map representation.

New Delhi/Guwahati: In a major outreach to the Northeast, Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Thursday announced reduction of the disturbed areas under the contentious AFSPA in Assam, Nagaland and Manipur from April 1, a decision wholeheartedly welcomed by the political leadership of the three states but greeted with cautious optimism by others who wanted the "draconian" law repealed in its entirety.

The move to curtail the areas under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act came three months after the Central government constituted a high-level committee to examine the possibility of lifting the AFSPA in Nagaland, where the killing of 14 civilians in an army operation in December 2021, in a case of "mistaken identity", triggered massive protests.

In a series of tweets, Shah said: "In a significant step, GoI (Government of India) under the decisive leadership of PM Shri @NarendraModi Ji has decided to reduce disturbed areas under Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the states of Nagaland, Assam and Manipur after decades."

The home minister said the reduction in areas under AFSPA is the result of the improved security situation and fast-tracked development due to consistent efforts of the Modi government. He said several agreements were signed with militant groups to end insurgency and bring lasting peace to the Northeast.

"Thanks to PM @NarendraModi Ji's unwavering commitment, our North-Eastern region, which was neglected for decades is now witnessing a new era of peace, prosperity and unprecedented development. I congratulate the people of North East on this momentous occasion," he said.

The AFSPA has been in force for decades in the three Northeastern states to assist the armed forces operating there to tackle insurgency.

The AFSPA empowers security forces to conduct operations and arrest anyone without a warrant besides giving immunity from arrest and prosecution to the security forces even if they shoot someone dead.

There have been innumerable protests for complete withdrawal of the law from the Northeast as well as Jammu and Kashmir for its alleged "draconian" provisions.

Manipur's human rights activist Irom Chanu Sharmila waged the most remarkable fight against the law with her hunger strike that lasted 16 years, before she gave up her peaceful resistance on August 9 in 2016.

The disturbed area notification under AFSPA was completely removed from Tripura in 2015 and Meghalaya in 2018.

In Assam, where the disturbed area notification is in force in the entire state since 1990, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said, "I wholeheartedly welcome Adarniya PM Shri @narendramodi ji's decision to withdraw AFSPA from all areas of Assam barring nine districts and one subdivision.”

AFSPA to be withdrawn fully from 23 districts of Assam

Due to the significant improvement in the situation, the AFSPA is being removed with effect from April 1 completely from 23 districts and partially from one district of Assam.

The disturbed area declaration is in force in entire Manipur (except for Imphal municipality area) since 2004. With Thursday's decision, 15 police station areas in six districts of Manipur will be excluded from the disturbed area notification.

"This historic decision is a result of the robust development and improved security situation under various initiatives taken up by Hon'ble PM Shri @narendramodi Ji in the North East.

"This decision will lead to a new era of peace, prosperity and development in Manipur yet again," said Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh in a series of tweets.

“Grateful to GoI under the leadership of @PMOIndia Shri @narendramodi ji & @AmitShah ji for reducing disturbed areas under AFSPA in the states of Nagaland, Assam & Manipur. This is a significant development towards bringing stability, security & prosperity to the North East region,” Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, whose Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) is a BJP ally, tweeted.

Assam and Manipur have BJP governments.

Civil society, intellects cautiously optimistic

The reaction of civil society and intellectuals in Nagaland and Manipur varied from being cautiously optimistic to outright angry.

In Nagaland where the disturbed area notification is in force since 1995, Naga Hoho general secretary K Elu Ndang welcomed the development but said, Our demand is complete revocation of AFSPA from all Naga inhabited areas in particular and the North East region in general.

Naga Hoho is the apex organisation of Nagas in four Northeastern States - Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur and Nagaland.

Naga People's Front (NPF) secretary general Achumbemo Kikon said, "The Act (AFSPA) has acted only against democracy", and urged the Centre to consider its repeal.

Naga Mothers Association (NMA) advisor Rosemary Dzuvichu termed the decision very unfair" as the public demand was to repeal the Act which "violates every kind of human rights". Such small favours are unacceptable, Dzuvichu said. NMA is an influential civil society organisation in the state that has been plagued by insurgency for over six decades.

In Manipur, Director Human Rights Alert Babloo Loitongbam said, "We welome it. It is a step in the right direction but our movement for the repeal of AFSPA will continue."

Executive editor of The Frontier Manipur Paojel Chaoba, who was detained under the anti-terror law-- Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in 2021 for an article published on the news web-portal, said, "We too welcome it for it is overdue. However, AFSPA should be revoked by the State....from the entire valley area of Manipur."

Manipur has a long history of civilian protests against the AFSPA. In November 2000, 10 civilians were gunned down by Assam Rifles troops at Malom Makha Leikai, near Imphal airport. The incident, provoked a young Irom Sharmila to start her legendary hunger strike against the AFSPA.

In 2015, AFSPA was in force in 3 districts of Arunachal Pradesh, 20 km belt of Arunachal Pradesh along the Assam border and in 16 police station areas in nine other districts of the state. It has been gradually reduced and the disturbed areas notification is currently in force in only three districts and in two police station areas in another district.

The disturbed area notification, while hitherto applied to the entire state of Nagaland, is being withdrawn from 15 police stations in 7 districts.

74% less militancy-related incidents in 2021

A home ministry spokesperson said in comparison to 2014, there has been a reduction of 74 per cent in militancy related incidents in 2021 in the Northeast. Similarly, the deaths of security personnel and civilians have also come down by 60 per cent and 84 per cent respectively during this period.

To realise the prime minister's vision of a peaceful and prosperous Northeast, the home minister has held talks with all the states of the region on a regular basis.

As a result, most of the extremist groups have laid down their arms, and expressed faith in the Constitution and the policies of the Modi government, the spokesperson said, adding about 7,000 militants have surrendered in the last few years.

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