Rights activists and a former top cop on Thursday hailed
to withdraw the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Afspa), saying it could serve as a precedent for total repeal of the legislation blamed for excesses by security forces.
The Afspa , in force in a few states in the northeast and Jammu and Kashmir , grants special powers to the armed forces, the most controversial being the legal immunity it provides to army officers. The law also gives special powers for detaining, using lethal force and entering and searching premises without warrant.
Rights activists have long been demanding repeal of the act but the defence ministry has stoutly defended it on the grounds of battling armed insurgents.
On Wednesday, the Left Front-led government in Tripura decided to withdraw the law in view of ebbing militancy in the state.
The law was imposed in the state in 1997 to battle two militant outfits – All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) and National Liberation Front of Twipra (NLFT) – engaged in violent attacks on security forces as well as civilians.
Former Punjab top cop KPS Gill -- credited with wiping out militancy in his state -- said Tripura’s move was pragmatic considering the fact that the northeastern state has been “quiet” for some time now.
“Overall, it’s good for the northeast region,” said Gill, who has also worked extensively to tackle militancy in Assam and Meghalaya and had once advised the Sri Lankan government on its anti-terror policy.
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of the Human Rights Watch, also told Hindustan Times that though Army deployment may be necessary, “Afspa should be repealed and replaced with a law that protects human rights and ensures accountability”.
Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) said Tripura’s step should make the governments of other states where Afpsa is imposed realise that the law “is a war against its own people”.
“It was a long overdue move, and finally the Left government could do it,” the activist said.
Though charges of atrocities have often been brought up against the army for the misuse of the act in the northeast and Kashmir, the government says the Afspa is a functional requirement for the armed forces in disturbed areas.
In the northeast, Afspa continues to be a major issue in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland where armed forces often face allegations of human rights violation during counter-insurgency operations.
In Manipur, rights activists Irom Sharmila has been on a fast since 2000 , seeking the repeal of the Afspa and demanding justice for alleged army excesses.
In March this year, Arunachal Pradesh strongly opposed a home ministry notification which sought to bring in more areas under the ambit of the legislation, often described as "draconian".
Sharmila's lawyer and human rights activist from Manipur, Babloo Loitongbam, told Hindustan Times that the Tripura government’s decision could effectively become a precedent for other northeastern states to restrict the ambit of the controversial law.
“The Tripura government’s decision is something that other states need to follow. Arunachal Pradesh has already rolled it back and now Tripura has withdrawn it completely. Unfortunately, the situation in Manipur remains the same, and one can only hope that this state too takes steps in the same direction,” said Loitongbam.
Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barma, head of the royal family of Tripura and working president of the Tripura Pradesh Congress, told Hindustan Times, "It's a victory of all activists who have fought against the law in Tripura."
"The imposition of Afspa was seen by many people as Manik Sarkar's drive to teach agitating tribals a lesson. It could have been repealed a decade ago, but it wasn't," added Deb Barma who is also the editor of The Northeast Today.
Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju was quoted by ANI as saying:
I hope that lifting of AFSPA from Tripura will also have positive impact on other states of North Eastern region: Kiren Rijiju (MoS Home)— ANI (@ANI_news) May 28, 2015
(The writer tweets as @saha_abhi1990 )