Exclusive: Modi Govt Rolls Back AFSPA in Arunachal Pradesh
In a rare first on security, the Centre has reversed its decision to extend AFSPA’s reach in Arunachal Pradesh
In a rare first on security, the Centre has reversed its decision to extend coverage of the contentious Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Arunachal Pradesh, sharply curtailing the army’s movement deeper into the frontier state to combat insurgent groups operating there.
According to the May 5 home ministry notification, in The Quint’s possession, the government has reinstated its old declaration, saying 16 police stations that lie long the 20km border stretch will continue to be deemed ‘disturbed’ and no new areas will be added.
Apart from Arunachal, the notification also states that all of Assam as well as a 20-km belt in Meghalaya has been declared as ‘disturbed’. AFSPA was reimposed in Tripura in January.
The law, which gives sweeping shoot-to-kill powers and arrests without warrants to the security forces, is renewed every six months in consultation with state authorities, although this is not mandatory.
A previous ministry order, issued on March 27 this year, had however stated that the stringent law will be imposed across all nine southern districts of Arunachal Pradesh bordering Assam, sparking widespread public protest and fear.
This fresh notification states that “in supersession” of the March 27 order, only areas within the 20km belt in Arunachal Pradesh have been declared ‘disturbed areas’ under Section 3 of AFSPA. In effect, army presence has been reinstated to a status quo position maintained for over two decades when AFSPA was first imposed in the state, on September 17, 1991.
The law, however, continues to be fully in force in the three contiguous districts of Changlang, Tirap and Longding along the Indo-Myanmar border.
The government’s rollback in less than 50 days has raised many questions on whether there’s a lack of coordination between the home and defence ministries.
On May 4, home minister Rajnath Singh had assured a students’ delegation led by the All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union (AAPSU) that AFSPA will be rolled back in the state.
Two days later, minister of state for home, Kiren Rijiju replied in Rajya Sabha that the declaration was about controlling anti-national and criminal activities of various militant groups including NDFB(S), ULFA(I) and NSCN(K).
Exactly a month ago, Rijiju said in a release that declaration of disturbed areas was done with the aim of enabling the army to apprehend terrorists “irrespective of the distance they cover in Arunachal Pradesh for a limited period till Assam-based groups are neutralised”.
The punitive AFSPA evokes concern and anxiety among people in the northeast, a region that has experienced the law in varying degrees since 1958, when Naga rebels raised the banner of secession.
While tortures, extra-judicial killing and fake encounters have been documented by human rights groups, the brutal assault and death in 2004 of a young Manipuri woman Thangjam Manorama and Irom Sharmila’s fast-unto-death protest have drawn international attention to this harsh law.
The BJP-led government’s unilateral decision in March to expand AFSPA’s reach in Arunachal had taken both the state government and civil society by surprise. Matters took a turn for the worse when three village women were reportedly molested by armymen in the state’s administrative Papum Pare district, 30 kms from capital Itanagar, provoking statewide outrage last month.
Papum Pare deputy commissioner Tai Kai told The Quint over phone that FIRs had been filed against the accused.
(Maitreyee Handique is a Delhi based journalist.)
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