New Delhi: The government has no plans to withdraw or amend “the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990”, which gives the forces immunity and special rights in carrying out operations in disturbed areas, minister in Government of India (GoI) Hansraj Gangaram Ahir said on Tuesday.
Ahir, however, said in the Lok Sabha that a proposal is under consideration to make the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 more operationally effective and humane.
“There is no proposal to amend the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990. There is no proposal under consideration of Government of India to withdraw the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990 from Jammu and Kashmir,” he said replying a written question.
There has been a long-standing demand from various quarters in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast to withdraw the Act.
The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990 was enacted in September, 1990.
If the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir or the Government of India, is of opinion that the whole or any part of the state is in such a disturbed and dangerous condition then this Act can be imposed.
The controversial law was first imposed in Nagaland in 1958, to put down the armed uprising in the state. It defines the “use of armed force in the aid of civil power”, a doctrine common to laws in several countries, such as Canada and the United Kingdom.
As Sanjib Baruah explains, the roots of the law go back to colonial policing, where the army and the police were viewed as complementary, not alternative, forces of control. In India, the implementation of AFSPA has been described as an undeclared emergency, where certain civil rights and freedoms are suspended. People under AFSPA have usually been treated as subject populations rather than citizens of a democratic state.
AFSPA grants soldiers executive powers to search and arrest without a warrant, to open fire if they feel the situation demands it, and to do so with a large degree of impunity. Action taken “in the line of duty” cannot be prosecuted in civilian courts unless the Centre allows it. As Baruah points out, the law’s assumption of “good faith” on the part of public servants turned out to be quaint.
Over the years, the powers and immunities granted to the AFSPA have been held responsible for hundreds of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and fake encounters. In almost all theatres of conflict, the culture of impunity generated by AFSPA has also spread to other wings of the security apparatus, such as the police and the paramilitary, not strictly covered by the law.
An act that was ostensibly meant to meet the demands of “exceptional circumstances” has turned into status quo. Over the years, AFSPA spread from Nagaland to other states of the North East. In 1990, it engulfed Kashmir and in 2001, districts of Jammu. While new areas came under the rule of AFSPA, hardly any places emerged from it, even as militancy waned and the number of deaths went down across theatres. In 2015, Tripura became a notable exception.
The law can only operate in regions notified as “disturbed areas”, and the Supreme Court in 1998 remarked that an area could not be declared disturbed in perpetuity. The notification had to be reviewed every six months by the legislature. But who’s checking? In most cases, AFSPA remains firmly in place, an emergency without end.
(With PTI Inputs)