Assam’s appeal to withdraw AFSPA

AFSPA is an act of the Parliament of India that grants special powers to the Indian Armed Forces to maintain public order in “disturbed areas”.

The state of Assam in India is at the center of a significant development regarding the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Disturbed Areas Act. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Assam government has formally recommended to the central government the complete withdrawal of these acts from the entire state. This move follows a recent meeting between Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and Union Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi, where they discussed the roadmap for the removal of AFSPA from Assam.

AFSPA, an act of the Indian Parliament, bestows special powers upon the Indian Armed Forces to maintain public order in “disturbed areas.” Simultaneously, the Disturbed Areas Act dictates that once an area is declared ‘disturbed,’ it must remain in this state for a minimum of three months. In the case of Assam, the disturbed area notification has been in effect since 1990.

Previously, the ‘disturbed area’ tag, imposed under AFSPA, was lifted from the entire state of Assam, with the exception of eight districts. Currently, AFSPA remains in force in Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Charaideo, Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat, Karbi Anglong, and Dima Hasao districts.

Assam’s Chief Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, has been a vocal advocate for the complete withdrawal of AFSPA from the state. Last month, he pledged that the state government would take the necessary steps to achieve this goal by the end of the year. The recommendation to withdraw AFSPA from Assam comes at a critical juncture, as the current term of the act is set to expire on September 30, after which the situation in the ‘disturbed areas’ will be reviewed.

According to data from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), there has been a significant reduction in extremist incidents in the northeast region, with a 76% decrease in 2022 compared to 2014. Additionally, the number of casualties among security personnel and civilians has decreased by 90% and 97%, respectively, during this period.

In his Independence Day address in Guwahati, Chief Minister Sarma expressed his government’s commitment to fully withdraw AFSPA from Assam by the end of 2023. He highlighted that during his tenure, four peace accords were signed with insurgent groups, leading to the integration of nearly 8,000 militants into mainstream politics.

AFSPA, a controversial law enacted in 1958, grants sweeping powers to armed forces personnel operating in disturbed areas. It allows them to conduct operations and make arrests without a warrant and provides them with immunity from arrest and prosecution, even in cases of fatal shootings, as long as their actions are deemed necessary for “the maintenance of public order.”

The ‘disturbed area’ designation under AFSPA is imposed to facilitate the operations of the armed forces. In the case of Assam, this notification has been in place since 1990, and while it was lifted from most districts last year, it still remains in effect in eight districts, including Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Charaideo, Sivasagar, Golaghat, Jorhat, Karbi Anglong, and Dima Hasao.

The recommendation to withdraw these acts from Assam reflects the evolving security situation in the region and the government’s commitment to restoring normalcy while respecting the rights and aspirations of the people of Assam. It marks a significant step toward addressing the concerns raised by various organizations that have long criticized AFSPA as ‘draconian’ and have called for its repeal.

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