Recently, the Government of Tripura,India, lifted the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) from the state. The act was in power for the past 18 years. What is the AFSPA? why was it implemented? and why is it being questioned?
The Government (can be either the central government or state government) considers those areas to be disturbed where there are disputes between members of different communities. It could be on the basis of religion, caste, language etc. In these particular areas, the government implements AFSPA. Under this act, if a governor of a union territory or a state feels that his region is disturbed then he/she sends an official notification to the central government to send in troops to help in maintaining the social order. Once the region is declared as disturbed by the governor, it has to maintain a status quo for a minimum of 3 months. The AFSPA was also introduced to tackle militants and insurgents that come up, mainly in states that border other countries. Like the 7 sister states (Tripura, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim)
The State government, like that in the case of Tripura can lift the act from enforcement whenever required. But a provision in the act allows the central government to overrule the decision of the State.
In regions where the act is enforced, an officer who is authorized enjoys certain powers. He/she can open fire on any individual if the individual in question violates any laws, the laws are as follows, (1) carrying a weapon, (2) 5 or more individuals gathering in one location. The officer however, has to provide adequate warning before opening fire.
Officer’s also have non-lethal powers like, (1) arresting anyone without a warrant, (2) seize and search any individual or property without a warrant in case of seizing weapons or arresting a suspect. However in this case, individuals who have been arrested have to be handed over to the nearest police station at once. The disadvantage for the people in this case and that for the state too is that the prosecution of an officer can only be carried out with prior permission from the central government.
Many questions have been raised against the AFSPA. Including that of human rights violations as it seems to give the armed forces the ‘right to kill.’
The implementation of the AFSPA and declaring a region as disturbed cannot be challenged by anyone in the court of law. Even though ‘law and order’ is a state subject list (Subject list means topics or areas of power that are defined by the constitution which separates them from the state and center so that there is no infringement or conflicts and give a clear jurisdiction.). This has been the most critical issue of the arguments against AFSPA other than human rights violations. Though states can lift the act at any time, the decision can be overruled by the center as stated above.
Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has been for many years and currently being debated over and has received criticisms and defense. The AFSPA may be a ‘necessary evil’ as it is required to maintain the law and order of states that are not capable of maintaining it independently, but it is also a bane for the people if not used for the purpose it was introduced for and will curb the rights of the people.