Tripura Scraps AFSPA After 18 Yrs

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AGARTALA:  Tripura has decided to do away with the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or AFSPA, a controversial law that gives the army sweeping emergency powers in troubled areas. 

Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, who is also the state Home Minister, said the decision was taken at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

AFSPA provides unlimited powers to security forces to shoot at sight, arrest anybody without a warrant, and carry out searches without consent . All this knowing that they wouldn’t face any legal action for any action undertaken under the act.

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.

“We have reviewed the situation of the disturbed areas of the state after every six months and also discussed the issue with the state police and other security forces working in the state. They suggested that there was no requirement of the Act now as the insurgency problem has largely been contained,” Mr Sarkar told reporters. 

According to a Deccan Herald report, Tripura saw a rapid decline in militancy over the past five years as hundreds of militants surrendered. The ruling Left Front, which has been in power in Tripura since 1993, has been contemplating the withdrawal of the law and had the support from opposition parties like the Congress and BJP, who were also in favour the move.

The report quoted unnamed sources in the Home Ministry as saying that talks on the issue of withdrawal of AFSPA from Tripura had been on for the last few months.

The last six-month extension to AFSPA was given in November 2014, when police had said militants had killed two BSF troopers, a civilian driver and had abducted several people in six different incidents in the state.

However, perhaps the most prominent evidence of the decline of militancy and separatism in Tripura came when the state recorded over 84 percent voter turnout in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, one of the highest voter turnouts in the country, according to the Election Commission.

On Wednesday, when the state government decided to withdraw the Act, an official with the home department said: “Though the four-and-half-decade-old terrorism has been tamed in Tripura, the state government is always cautious about the terror outfits and their activities.”

The law is in force in four other northeastern states and Jammu and Kashmir.

The states can remove the law without consulting the Centre, say officials.

In Jammu and Kashmir though the political parties across the spectrum want the law scrapped but the recommendation has never gone to the Centre, because the decision has to be taken by a unified command that includes the army.

Civil rights activists have called for repeal of the Act or possible amendments in Sections 4 and 7 of AFSPA, which accord far-reaching powers and legal safeguards to security forces while undertaking counter-terrorism operations.

Section 4 gives security personnel sweeping powers to search premises and make arrests without warrants, “use force, even to extent of causing death”, destroy arms dumps, hideouts and to stop, search and seize any vehicle.

Besides Tripura, AFSPA is also in force in Manipur (excluding the Imphal Municipal Council area), Assam and Nagaland and in the Tirap and Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh. Manipur’s human rights activist Irom Sharmila has been on an indefinite hunger strike for over 15 years, demanding the withdrawal of the act in her home state.

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