Do we really need AFSPA?

  • Sourjya Bhowmick, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 22, 2014 20:03 IST

Irom Sharmila was arrested again on Friday, two days after she was released following a court order. Her 14-year fast to see the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) removed continues.

Her fast is deemed to be an attempt to suicide, but she sees the AFSPA as the killer.

The question still being debated is do we need the AFSPA?

Home ministry statistics say that from 2005-2012, around 9,468 terrorism incidents occurred in the northeast, around 26,301 insurgents were arrested, killed or surrendered.

The report is unclear on the actual number of arrests, killed and surrenders.

Moreover, 379 security forces and 2,186 civilians were also killed.

In simplistic terms, this comes to an average of three terrorism incidents and eight terrorists arrested/killed/surrendered per day. On the other side, 47 security forces and 273 civilians were killed per year.

The AFSPA was promulgated in 1958 and gives powers to the security forces to shoot on sight, arrest people without a warrant or carry out searches without hindrance.

It also protects the security forces from legal processes for action taken under the act.

The AFSPA, branded a draconian law by detractors, also allows the army and paramilitary forces operating in areas declared as "disturbed" by the home ministry to take whatever action they deem fit against terrorists.

The AFSPA is in force in whole or in parts of Manipur, Tripura, Assam and Nagaland, as also in Tirap and Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh and in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the Act while clearly mentioning dos and don’ts for the Army.

The use of ‘excessive force’ was exhibited on July 11, 2004, when members of Assam Rifles raided the house of Thangjam Manorama in Imphal, Manipur. She was suspected to be the member of a terrorist organisation.

It is alleged that she was dragged out, raped and murdered. Her body was found around riddled with bullets.

The protests against the AFSPA intensified after this incident. Incidentally, Manipur — Manorama and Irom Sharmila’s state — has witnessed the highest number of terrorist activities and killing of security forces and civilians since 2005.

During this period, around 136 complaints of human rights violations in the northeast were received by the Human Rights Cell, Army Headquarters.

Of these, seven were adjudged genuine and nine personnel were punished.

This means around 94% of the complaints were untrue.

Divergent views exist on the need for the AFSPA. Many argue that removal of the act will lead to demoralising the armed forces and see militants motivating locals to file lawsuits against the army.

Anti-AFSPA activists say it is undemocratic and has failed to contain terrorism, as the number of armed groups has gone up after the act was established.

In 2005, the Jeevan Reddy committee reviewed the AFSPA, spoke to various stakeholders and said the act should be repealed while Unlawful Activities Protection Act should be strengthened to fight militancy.

Interestingly, the Justice Verma Commission, established in the wake of December 16, 2012, rape in Delhi, had also suggested that armed forces should be brought under criminal law for sexual violence.

At present, around 15 major terrorist organisations are active in the northeast.

In the last decade, the home ministry has spent around Rs 3,898 crore as security related expenditure to fight insurgency.

The AFSPA has repeatedly figured in Parliament, but successive governments have never indicated that the act will be repealed.

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