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What is AFSPA?

What is AFSPA?
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Rights activists and a former top cop on Thursday hailed Tripura’s decision to withdraw the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Afspa),...

Rights activists and a former top cop on Thursday hailed Tripura’s decision to withdraw the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Afspa), saying it could serve as a precedent for total repeal of the legislation blamed for excesses by security forces.


The AFSPA, in force in a few states in the northeast and Jammu and Kashmir, grants special powers to the armed forces, the most controversial being the legal immunity it provides to army officers. The law also gives special powers for detaining, using lethal force and entering and searching premises without warrant. Rights activists have long been demanding repeal of the act but the defence ministry has stoutly defended it on the grounds of battling armed insurgents.


On Wednesday, the Left Front-led government in Tripura decided to withdraw the law in view of ebbing militancy in the state. The law was imposed in the state in 1997 to battle two militant outfits – All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) and National Liberation Front of Twipra (NLFT) – engaged in violent attacks on security forces as well as civilians.


The law, which protects the forces from litigation and investigation for counter-terror operations, has been criticized as an excuse for army excesses; the army can shoot to kill, keeping suspects in custody without trial and make arrests without a warrant. 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, but ground realities have been far more complicated in states like Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur. In Manipur, activist Irom Sharmila has been on a fast since 2000 against AFSPA and alleged army atrocities, but the state government says it cannot afford to let go of army control.


In Jammu and Kashmir, 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. The law was imposed in Tripura in 1997 to tackle insurgency in the state, following a spurt of militant violence. But in recent years, the state has been largely peaceful.

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