Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Thursday announced reduction of the disturbed areas imposed under the  Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in Nagaland, Assam and Manipur from April 1. 

The move came months after the act faced criticism after 14 civilians were killed by the army in Nagaland in a case of “mistaken identity”. The central government, in December, had extended AFSPA in the state for six months. 

The decision to reduce AFSPA affected areas does not imply that the act has been completely withdrawn from the three insurgency-hit states, a home ministry spokesperson said after Shah’s announcement. 

Also read: Imran Khan faces no-trust vote: How does no-confidence motion work in Pakistan

In a series of tweets, Shah said: “In a significant step, GoI (Government of India) under the decisive leadership of PM Shri @NarendraModi Ji has decided to reduce disturbed areas under Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the states of Nagaland, Assam and Manipur after decades.” The home minister said the reduction in areas under AFSPA is the result of the improved security situation and fast-tracked development due to the consistent efforts and several agreements to end insurgency and bring lasting peace in Northeast by the Modi government.

He further added that North East, a region ‘which was neglected for decades’, is now witnessing a new era of peace, prosperity and unprecedented development. 

Also read: Why is Zakir Naik’s Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) banned for 5 years?

What is AFSPA?

First adopted as an ordinance in 1942, AFSPA has been in force in three Northeastern states – Nagaland, Assam, Manipur – to assist the armed forces operating there to tackle insurgency.

It empowers security forces to conduct operations and arrest anyone without any prior warrant besides giving immunity from arrest and prosecution to the security forces if they shoot someone dead.

Why has AFSPA been criticised?

While security agents have been given powers to arrest and kill ‘with reasonable suspicion’, critics say that AFSPA has caused human rights violations in the areas of its operation.

Manipuri activist Irom Chanu Sharmila fought against the law by remaining on hunger strike for 16 years, before ending it on August 9 in 2016.

Also read: Can die for my country: Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal responds to violence outside home

Fourteen civilians were killed by military in Nagaland last year. People protested for weeks for the withdrawal of the AFSPA.

“AFSPA gives powers to the Army to arrest civilians without any arrest warrant, raid houses and also kill people. But there is no action against the security forces. They have created a law-and-order situation,” Chief Minister Neiphuo Rio had said.

A home ministry spokesperson said in comparison to 2014, there has been a reduction of 74%in militancy incidents in 2021 in the Northeast. Similarly, deaths of security personnel and civilians have also come down by 60% and 84% respectively during this period.

Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma welcomed HM Amit Shah’s announcemnet, saying that 60% of state’s area will now be free from AFSPA’s purview. 

“The reduction of AFSPA area in the Northeast is a historic decision. A lot of steps have been taken by HM and PM. Arunachal Pradesh had removed AFSPA long back except in 3 districts. This decision shows that the era of peace has arrived in the Northeast.”  Union Min Kiren Rijiju said.

Manipur CM N.Biren Singh said that PM Narendra Modi took the decision keeping people’s sentiment in mind.