By Oken Jeet Sandham
The `Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA)` and the `Disturbed Area Act (DAA)` are synonymous with the people of the Northeast India. The rest of the people of India might feel otherwise on hearing such Act imposed on the Northeastern States. But to the Northeastern people, it is not new thing as they have been living with these Acts for decades.
What is AFSPA or DAA? Once any area of any State or Union Territory or the whole of any State or Union Territory of the country is declared as `Disturbed` as per the Section 3 of AFSPA, the members of the armed forces are empowered with certain special powers to act in those areas declared as `Disturbed.` And currently, most of the Northeastern States of India are under the purview of the DAA and thereby empowering the Indian armed forces to act under the most controversial and draconian AFSPA.
Under this Act, any commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or any other person of equivalent rank in the armed forces may, in a disturbed area:-
(a) if he is of opinion that it is necessary so to do for the maintenance of public order, after giving such due warning as he may consider necessary, fire upon or otherwise use force; even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law or order for the time being in force in the disturbed area prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons or the carrying of weapons or of things capable of being used as weapons or of fire-arms, ammunition or explosive substances;
(b) if he is of opinion that it is necessary so to do, destroy any arms dump, prepared or fortified position or shelter from which armed attacks are made or are likely to be made or are attempted to be made or any structure used as a training camp for armed volunteers or utilized as a hideout by armed gangs or absconders wanted for any offence;
(c) arrest without warrant, any person who has committed a cognizable offence or against whom a reasonable suspicion exists that he has committed or is about to commit a cognizable offence and may use such force as may be necessary to effect the arrest;
(d) enter and search without warrant any premises to make any such arrest as aforesaid or to recover any person believed to be wrongfully restrained and confined or any property reasonably suspected to be stolen property or any arms, ammunition or explosive substances believed to be unlawfully kept in such premises, and may for that purpose use such force as may be necessary.
So the Act simply gives carte blanche to the Indian armed forces in the areas declared as `Disturbed` in the name of assisting the Civil Administration. In all these, they are immune as no prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government, against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act.
This Act is draconian and simply an anti-democracy. This Act is nothing but a license to kill indiscriminately. This Act also fundamentally conflicts the Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Constitution of India. This Act must go and it should no more be used in this modern and civilized world. But sadly, this Act is still in force in many Northeastern States.
One must remember that to give such draconian power to the security forces fighting against the Naga underground people, Delhi, for the first time, brought out the `Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act` Bill in 1958. The Bill was passed by both the Houses of Parliament and it received the assent of the President on 11th September, 1958. Yet, this Act has become one of the most controversial Acts today in the country `“ drawing flaks from around the world. Nagaland was like a laboratory theatre for the Indian army to experiment the new `Act.` Imagine, the hell bent in the 50s, 60s, 70s when so-called a few educated Nagas had hardly realized the nature of the Act. Only after decades, people started raising the specter of it.
Now the relative peace is prevalent at least in Nagaland because of the ceasefires with various Naga underground groups. At the same time, the Government of India has been holding political negotiations with the leaders of the NSCN (IM) for nearly two decades for finding permanent solution to the Naga political issue. Of late, there have been attacks on Indian security forces by NSCN (K) and unfortunately, they started such attacks on them (security forces) after unilaterally abrogating their 14-year truce with Delhi in March this year.
However, the civil societies, state government and many stakeholders have been requesting the Government of India as well as the leaders of the NSCN (K) for resumption of their ceasefire as it is also the desire of the people of the state.
While doing so, the Centre declared entire Nagaland as a “disturbed area” stating that a “dangerous condition” prevails in the state and armed forces should assist the civil administration in maintaining law and order. This again gives the sweeping power to the Security forces under the draconian Act — AFSPA.
In a gazette notification, the home ministry said that it was of the opinion that the whole state of Nagaland is in such a disturbed or dangerous condition that the use of armed forces in aid of civil power is necessary.
“Now, therefore, in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 3 of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958, the central government hereby declares that whole of the said state to be a disturbed area for a period of one year with effect from June 30, 2015 for the purpose of the act,” the notification said.
Chief Minister TR Zeliang and several civil societies in Nagaland expressed their discontentment and anguish over the Center`™s declaring the entire State as a `Disturbed area.` They have demanded for immediate revocation of the AFSPA from Nagaland.
In fact, for the last many years, when NSCN (K) was in truce with Delhi for 14 years, there was relative peace in Nagaland. Even leaders of various Naga underground factions had developed good rapport among them after the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) put unprecedented efforts for reconciliation among them. So, relative peace has been prevalent in the state.
Soon after Neiphiu Rio became the Chief Minister of Nagaland in 2003, his Government had been opposing tooth and nail to Delhi`™s attempts to extend `disturbed area` status in the state citing various reasons of the relative peace in the state. In spite of such requests from the State Government, Delhi turned a deaf ear and announced extension of `Disturbed area status` as if the situation in Nagaland was like 80s or early 90s. They had no compunction to the honest recommendations of the State Government.
As such, the Center`™s recent extension of `Disturbed area` for another one year in Nagaland is not unexpected. Whether there is peace or violence in Nagaland, Delhi has the same mind and cannot see the changes taking place in the State even after their prolonged political negotiations with the Naga underground leaders and truces with them. They cannot even trust their comrade Kiren Rijiju, Union Minister of State for Home, in-charge of Northeast, as could be seen from his startling revelation that he was not aware of the Center`™s recent decision to declare entire Nagaland as `Disturbed area` under the AFSPA.
We should also be ashamed of what the UN and Amnesty International questioning the AFSPA some years back and they even already asked India to revoke it from the Northeastern States of India saying it had no place in Indian democracy, besides it clearly violates International Law.
It now appears that DAA may continue to be in force in Nagaland even if the Naga political issue is resolved. The leadership of the country has not realized till now that the AFSPA is anti-democratic and against the very Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Constitution of India.