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Revoking AFSPA in Jammu and Kashmir

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is a controversial law granting special powers to the armed forces in “disturbed” areas, recently considered for revocation in Jammu and Kashmir by the Indian government.

What is the context?

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has been a subject of debate and controversy for several years, especially in regions like Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and the northeastern states. The Act, enacted in 1958, grants special powers to the armed forces in areas declared as “disturbed” to maintain public order.

What is AFSPA?

AFSPA provides the armed forces with broad powers. These powers include the authority to search, arrest, and even open fire if they deem it necessary for public order maintenance. Under this Act, any area or district can be declared as “disturbed” by the government. It facilitates the operations of the armed forces in those regions. The Act has often been criticized for its implications on human rights, with allegations of misuse and excessive force by the armed forces.

Armed forces powers under the act?

Under the provisions of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), in declared “disturbed” areas, armed forces officers possess the authority to:

  • Open fire or use force, potentially resulting in death, against individuals violating law and order to maintain public order after issuing a warning.
  • Destroy arms caches, hideouts, fortified positions, or training camps used by armed groups or wanted individuals.
  • Arrest without a warrant individuals suspected of committing or having committed recognizable offenses, using force if necessary.
  • Conduct searches of premises to make arrests or recover wrongfully restrained individuals, arms, ammunition, or explosives.
  • Stop and search vehicles or vessels suspected of transporting individuals or weapons.
  • Present arrested individuals to the nearest police station promptly, along with a report detailing the circumstances of the arrest.
  • Grant army officers legal immunity against prosecution or legal proceedings for their actions under AFSPA.
  • Protect individuals acting in good faith under this act from legal proceedings, requiring Central Government sanction for prosecution.

However, a significant shift occurred on 8 July 2016 when the Supreme Court of India, in a landmark decision, revoked the armed forces’ immunity from prosecution under AFSPA. The court emphasized the equality of law application, stating that regardless of whether an individual is a civilian, militant, or terrorist, the law remains consistent and applicable to all. This decision emphasized the principles of democracy, the rule of law, and the preservation of individual liberties.

Government’s Stance on AFSPA

Union Home Minister Amit Shah recently indicated that the Central Government is considering the revocation of AFSPA in Jammu and Kashmir. In an interview, Shah mentioned plans to reduce the presence of troops in the Union Territory and entrust law and order responsibilities to the Jammu and Kashmir Police. He also highlighted that AFSPA has been removed from 70% of areas in the northeastern states, indicating a potential shift in the government’s approach towards the Act.

Furthermore, the government has been emphasizing the need to strengthen democratic processes in J&K, with plans for assembly elections in the UT before September. Shah also discussed the introduction of reservations for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in J&K, along with special provisions for displaced persons from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Pros and Cons

AFSPA provides the armed forces with necessary powers to combat insurgency and maintain public order in “disturbed” areas. The Act can act as a deterrent against militant activities and support security forces in challenging environments.

On the other hand, AFSPA has faced criticism for alleged human rights violations, including misuse of powers and instances of excessive force by the armed forces. The Act has been a contentious issue in regions like J&K and the northeastern states, leading to demands for its revocation by various organizations and individuals.

Conclusion

The debate surrounding AFSPA continues to be complex, balancing the need for security measures with concerns about human rights and civil liberties. The government’s recent considerations to potentially revoke AFSPA in J&K reflect evolving dynamics and efforts to address the aspirations and grievances of the people in the region. As discussions and deliberations on AFSPA progress, it remains crucial to prioritize dialogue, transparency, and inclusive decision-making to ensure peace, stability, and respect for human rights in the affected areas.

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