Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has assured tribal leaders from Tripura that the central government would suitably amend the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) 1958 that gives unlimited powers to the paramilitary forces to shoot on sight and arrest anybody without a warrant.
The assurance, say tribal leaders, came when a five-member delegation of Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT) met the prime minister in New Delhi late last month and submitted a detailed memorandum.
Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Tribal Welfare Minister Kantilal Bhuria, Minister of State for Planning and Parliamentary Affairs V. Narayanaswamy, National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan and Home Secretary G.K. Pillai were present at the meeting.
"Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram unambiguously assured us that the centre is now working to modify certain provisions of the AFSPA," said Rabindra Debbarma, former Tripura minister and INPT general secretary.
Home ministry officials in New Delhi told IANS that amendments to the controversial legislation had been finalised and sent to the union cabinet for approval. Once the cabinet clears it, it will be applicable throughout the country - be it Jammu and Kashmir or the northeast states.
According to the INPT, a regional party and an ally of Congress, over 1,500 tribal youths have been either detained or arrested under AFSPA over the years.
"The demand for repealing the AFSPA was one of the issues in our ongoing movement gainst the Left Front government," Debbarma said, adding that the repeal of the draconian law was a major issue in the entire northeast.
Besides Tripura, the AFSPA is also in force in Manipur, Assam and Nagaland.
Human rights activist Irom Sharmila in Manipur has been on an indefinite hunger strike for 10 years, demanding rescinding of the controversial act, which was enacted by parliament to quell the Naga insurgency in northeast India in 1958.
Meghalaya Governor Ranjit Sekhar Mooshahary and central intelligence officials in a recent meeting of police chiefs of northeast in Shillong also discussed the issue.
"The prolonged use of the act has made it ineffective. There are reports of abuses of the act. If the act is suitably amends, I think the situation would not worsen, in fact it would improve," said Mooshahary, former chief of the National Security Guards (NSG) and the Border Security Force (BSF).
The Tripura government has recently extended the AFSPA for another six months to counter the insurgency in the northeastern state.
"Though militancy has come down in Tripura, the state government is averse to taking any chances for some more time," a state home department official said.
Of the 64 police stations in Tripura, the AFSPA is in force in 34 police stations and partially in six police stations since 1997.
During its meeting in New Delhi, the INPT also demanded further empowerment of the Tripura Tribal Autonomous District Council (TTADC), inclusion of the Kokborok language in the Eighth Schedule of the constitution and amendment to the tribals' forest rights act.
"Like the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC) of Assam, the TTADC should be given powers to collect tax and various royalties and govern higher education institutions and hospitals under its jurisdiction," Debbarma told journalists.
"The prime minister and the home minister told us that they would send a high level official team to Tripura to study the functioning of the TTADC and implementation of the tribals' forest rights act in Tripura."