Tripura Sets the Example


In a dramatic new twist to the raging debate over AFSPA, Tripura has decided to do away with the Act  after 18 years. AFSPA had been imposed in the North  Eastern state in 1997 following a spate of killings and kidnappings by the National Liberation Front of Tripura. The centre has hailed the decision with the minister of state for home Kiran Rijiju terming the move as “welcome”. But the minister has drawn an important difference between Tripura and the other states, including J&K, where the Act is in force.  He termed the Tripura decision valid as AFSPA there had been imposed by the state  government. “Wherever such a decision is taken by the Home Ministry in consultation with the state government, the central government has to take a decision,” Rijiju cautioned. By that yardstick J&K government can’t revoke the Act independently of the union government. But the legal opinion in J&K runs contrary to this position.  

According to legal experts, the state cabinet can recommend to J&K Governor the withdrawal of notification issued under AFSPA and such advice would be binding on the Governor. Even the J&K’s advocate general Riyaz Jan has said on record that the state government has the power to withdraw the notification imposing AFSPA.  But the issue, as we all know, is not that simple. There is another legal twist to the story. To wit: AFSPA comes into force in those areas which have been declared disturbed by the state government. And for AFSPA to go, the state has to first revoke the Disturbed Areas Act.  But it has now turned out that the Distrurbed Areas Act which is supposed to be de-notified to clear decks for the revocation of AFSPA isn’t in force in J&K at all. In response to a resolution for the repeal of DAA moved in the recent Assembly session by the NC legislator Dr Bashir Ahmad Veeri, the additional secretary Legislative Council informed him “that the Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Act has lapsed on 7th October 1998” and as such “at present the DAA is not in force in the state”.  This has raised many serious legal questions about the application of AFSPA in the state. But the state later defended the Act by explaining that the “DAA is inherent in AFSPA”. Having said that, the issue also has an egregious political dimension. 

AFSPA in J&K is mired in divergent opinions among three main parties: the state and central governments and the Army. The Army has been the strongest opponent to any relaxation in the law, let alone support its repeal from the state. Similarly central government now run by BJP holds a staunch pro-AFSPA view. The state government comprising a coalition between PDP and BJP is riven with its own contradictions, with PDP aggressively pursuing the AFSPA revocation and BJP batting for the Act’s continuance. This, despite the fact that the two parties are signatories to an Agenda of Alliance that commits them to making efforts to a phased repeal of the Act from the state. But the situation can hardly be allowed to go on like this. This guarantees a permanent status quo. 

PDP, as a party that claims to speak to Kashmiri aspirations has to seize the Tripura example to press the case of J&K. Any laxity on its part would make it appear complicit in the Act’s continuance. This is time to hold BJP to its side of bargain on the issue and start a gradual process that ends in the withdrawal of AFSPA. If not now, then at least in the near future.

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