Tripura revokes Armed Forces Special Powers Act, J&K will have to wait

28 May 2015

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is mandatory if the Army has to be deployed in Jammu and Kashmir or any other state for internal security, defence minister Manohar Parrikar has said, even as the operation of the Act was withdrawn in Tripura.

The Tripura government on Wednesday decided to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), after it was enforced 18 years ago, in view of a significant improvement in the law and order situation. AFSPA was enforced in Tripura in 1997.

"In view of the significant taming of terrorism in Tripura, the council of ministers today decided to withdraw the AFSPA from the entire state," chief minister Manik Sarkar told reporters on Wednesday.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is mandatory if the Army has to be deployed in Jammu and Kashmir or any other state for internal security, Parrikar said.

The defence minister, however, said, it was nor for his ministry to decide whether to impose AFSPA in a state or not. It is imposed to enable the Army to operate in the state, he said.

"Mine is not the ministry to decide about it. It is very simple that if the Act is existing in that particular area, the Army can operate in that area. If it is not there, Army can't operate there," Parrikar said.

The central Act was first enforced in Tripura on 16 February 1997 when terrorism was at its peak in the state, which shares an 856-km border with Bangladesh. Members of two separatist groups - National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) - are still sheltered and are alleged to be getting arms training in Bangladesh.

These two groups have been demanding the secession of Tripura from India.

Local rights groups and political parties in Tripura, such as the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura and the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura, however, saw the Act as "draconian" and wanted it repealed. They feared the Act was aimed at suppressing the state's 33-per cent tribal population.

As per provisions, the Act was reviewed and extended after every six months, since it was enforced in Tripura.

"The security forces recently exhaustively reviewed the law and order situation in the state. Considering the reports of the security forces, the council of ministers decided to recommend to the union home ministry to issue a notification to withdraw the AFSPA," C M Manik Sarkar said.

"The decisions were taken in view of the decrease of militancy-related incidents in Tripura over the last few years. However, the security forces would be watchful over the situation," Sarkar added.

AFSPA provides unlimited powers to security forces to shoot at sight, arrest anybody without a warrant, and carry out searches without consent. However, they could still face legal action for any illegal action taken under the Act.

Human rights activists hailed the repeal of AFSPA by the Tripura government. Irom Sharmila, who has been on hunger strike since November 2000 and has vowed to continue her fast until her demand for withdrawal of AFSPA from Manipur is met, said it is ''Good for the NE''.

Former Punjab top cop and a rights activist KPS Gill on Thursday hailed Tripura's decision to withdraw the controversial Act, saying it could serve as a precedent for total repeal of the legislation blamed for excesses by security forces.

The AFSPA, which is in force in a few states in the North East and Jammu and Kashmir, grants special powers to the armed forces, including 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.

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