The Tripura government’s decision to lift the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from the State is most welcome. India’s history, <g data-gr-id="39">post Independence</g>, has seen a slew of draconian laws, which include the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), Public Safety Act (PSA) and Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act. However, among all such laws, it is the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which has captured the attention of the national media, primarily due its misuse in Jammu and Kashmir.
It is a law that has been widely criticised by civil society organisations, as they contain provisions that grossly violate constitutionally conferred fundamental rights. Key provisions in the act allow security forces to shoot at sight, arrest anybody without a warrant, and carry out searches without consent. Members of the various security forces, primarily the army, undertake these acts with the knowledge that they will not face any legal action for operations conducted under the act. However, legal experts and human rights organisations have demanded a comprehensive review of the act on a repeated basis.
They point out that the act falls short of the established norms of natural justice, such as, equality before law, the right of the accused of appearance before a Magistrate within 24 hours of arrest, fair trial in a public court and access to competent legal counsel, among others. For the sake of fairness, however, one must understand why such a law is required in the first place. The Act comes into play if the local administration (State government) is unable to deal with the prevailing law order situation in what authorities at the Centre or the State call a ‘Disturbed Area’. In the event the State machinery is unable to maintain law and order, the Army is brought in to protect the area’s territorial integrity. The Army, therefore, requires legislation that is essential to ensure efficient utilization of combat capability.
It was only after serious consultations with the Army, police and other security forces, did the Tripura government on Thursday decide to lift AFSPA from the State. Speaking to members of the media, Chief Minister Manik Sarkar said that there is no requirement for the Act <g data-gr-id="35">anymore,</g> since the insurgency problem has been largely contained. The Act was first introduced in the State on 16 February, 1997 when terrorism was at its peak in the state. The State, which shares an 836-km border with Bangladesh, has seen two armed militant groups— National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF)— conduct sporadic attacks on State institutions and the local populace from their base in Bangladesh.
They have long sought the secession of Tripura from the Indian State. According to reports by certain national dailies, however, Tripura saw a rapid decline in acts of separatist led violence over the last five years after the surrender of hundreds of militants. One major indicator of the drop in militant attacks and separatist tendencies was when the State recorded an 84 percent voter turnout in last year’s Lok Sabha elections, according to statistics presented by the Election Commission of India. By participating in elections, the people of Tripura have affirmed their desire to maintain their stake in India’s democratic process, despite its flaws.