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Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act

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Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act

Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act
Status: In force

Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts (AFSPA), are Acts of the Parliament of India that grant special powers to the Indian Armed Forces in what each act terms "disturbed areas".[1]

One such act was passed on 11 September 1958 and applied to the Seven Sister States in India's northeast.[2] Another passed in 1983 and applied to Punjab and Chandigarh and was withdrawn in 1997, roughly 14 years after it came to force.[3] & from Tripura in 2015Another such act was passed in 1990 and applied to Jammu and Kashmir.[4]

The Acts have received criticism from several sections for alleged concerns about human rights violations in the regions of its enforcement alleged to have happened.[5][6]

Politicians like P. Chidambaram and Saifuddin Soz of Congress have advocated revocation AFSPA whilst Amarinder Singh is against their revocation.[7][8]

Irom Chanu Sharmila who is also known as the "Iron Lady of Manipur" is a civil rights activist, who has been in a hunger strike for nearly 15 years. Her primary demand to the Indian government has been the repeal of the AFSPA.


  • History 1
    • Armed Forces Special Powers (Assam and Manipur) Act, 1958 1.1
    • The Armed Forces (Punjab and Chandigarh) Special Powers Act, 1983 1.2
    • The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990 1.3
  • The Act 2
  • Non-state views and commentary:- 3
    • United Nations view 3.1
    • Non-governmental organizations' analysis 3.2
    • United States leaked diplomatic cables 3.3
    • Santosh Hegde commission on Manipur encounter deaths 3.4
  • See also 4
  • Footnotes 5
  • External links 6


The Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance of 1942[9] was promulgated by the British on 15 August 1942 to suppress the Quit India Movement.[10] Modeled on these lines, four ordinances—the Bengal Disturbed Areas (Special Powers of Armed Forces) Ordinance; the Assam Disturbed Areas (Special Powers of Armed Forces)Ordinance; the East Bengal Disturbed Areas (Special Powers of Armed Forces) Ordinance; the United provinces Disturbed Areas(Special Powers of Armed Forces) Ordinance were invoked by the central government to deal with the internal security situation in the country in 1947 which arouse out of Partition of India.

Armed Forces Special Powers (Assam and Manipur) Act, 1958

In 1951, the Naga National Council(NNC) reported that it conducted a "free and fair plebiscite" in which about 99 per cent Nagas voted for a ‘Free Sovereign Naga Nation’.[11] There was a boycott of first general election of 1952 which later, extended to boycott of government schools and officials.[12] In order to deal with the situation, the Assam government imposed the Assam Maintenance of Public Order (Autonomous District) Act in the Naga Hills in 1953 and intensified police action against the rebels. When the situation worsened, Assam deployed the Assam Rifles in the Naga Hills and enacted the Assam Disturbed Areas Act of 1955, providing a legal framework for the paramilitary forces and the armed state police to combat insurgency in the region.But the Assam Rifles and the state armed police could not contain the Naga rebellion and the rebel Naga Nationalist Council(NNC) formed a parallel government "The Federal Government of Nagaland" on 23 March 1956.[3] The Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Ordinance 1958 was promulgated by the President Dr. Rajendra Prasad on 22 May 1958. It was replaced by Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) special Powers Act, 1958 on 11 September 1958.

The Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act,1958 empowered only the Governors of the States and the Administrators of the Union Territories to declare areas in the concerned State or the Union Territory as 'disturbed'. The reason for conferring such a power as per "Objects and Reasons'" appended to the Bill was that, "Keeping inview the duty of the Union under Article 355 of the Constitution, inter alia, to protect every State against internal disturbance, it is considered desirable that the Central government should also have power to declare areas as 'disturbed', to enable its armed forces to exercise the special powers".[13] The territorial scope of Act also expanded to the five states of the North-East, - Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura and to the Union Territories Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram. In addition, the words, "The Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act, 1958" were substituted by "Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958", getting the acronym of AFSPA, 1958.

Recently the Tripura state government has decided to withdraw the controversial act citing significant reduction in the extent of terrorist activities in the state.[14] In June 2015, after review, AFSPA in nagaland state has been extended by one more year[15]

The Armed Forces (Punjab and Chandigarh) Special Powers Act, 1983

The central government enacted the Armed Forces(Punjab and Chandigarh) Special Powers Act on 6 October 1983, repealing The Armed Forces (Punjab and Chandigarh) Special Powers Ordinance, 1983, to enable the central armed forces to operate in the state of Punjab and the union territory of Chandigarh. The Act was enforced in the whole of Punjab and Chandigarh on 15 October 1983.The terms of the Act broadly remained the same as that of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Assam and Manipur) of 1972 except for two sections, which provided additional powers to the armed forces.

  1. Sub-section (e) was added to Section 4 stipulating that any vehicle can be stopped, searched and seized forcibly if it is suspected of carrying proclaimed offenders or ammunition.
  2. Section 5 was added to the Act specifying that a soldier has the power to break open any locks "if the key there of is withheld".[3]

The Act was withdrawn in 1997, roughly 14 years after it came to force.

The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990

The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990 was enacted in September, 1990. [4][16]

The Act

The Articles in the Constitution of India empower state governments to declare a state of emergency due to one or more of the following reasons:

  • Failure of the administration and the local police to tackle local issues
  • Return of (central) security forces leads to return of miscreants/erosion of the "peace dividend"
  • The scale of unrest or instability in the state is too large for local forces to handle

In such cases, it is the prerogative of the state government to call for central help. In most cases, for example during elections, when the local police may be stretched too thin to simultaneously handle day-to-day tasks, the central government obliges by sending in the BSF and the CRPF. Such cases do not come under the purview of AFSPA. AFSPA is confined to be enacted only when a state, or part of it, is declared a 'disturbed area'. Continued unrest, like in the cases of militancy and insurgency, and especially when borders are threatened, are situations where AFSPA is resorted to.[17]

By Act 7 of 1972, the power to declare areas as being disturbed was extended to the central government.[18]

In a civilian setting, soldiers have no legal tender, and are still bound to the same command chain as they would be in a war theater. Neither the soldiers nor their superiors have any training in civilian law or policing procedures. This is where and why the AFSPA comes to bear - to legitimize the presence and acts of armed forces in emergency situations which have been deemed war-like.[17][19]

According to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), in an area that is proclaimed as "disturbed", an officer of the armed forces has powers to:[20]

  • After giving such due warning, Fire upon or use other kinds of force even if it causes death, against the person who is acting against law or order in the disturbed area for the maintenance of public order,
  • Destroy any arms dump, hide-outs, prepared or fortified position or shelter or training camp from which armed attacks are made by the armed volunteers or armed gangs or absconders wanted for any offence.
  • To arrest without a warrant anyone who has committed cognizable offences or is reasonably suspected of having done so and may use force if needed for the arrest.
  • To enter and search any premise in order to make such arrests, or to recover any person wrongfully restrained or any arms, ammunition or explosive substances and seize it.
  • Stop and search any vehicle or vessel reasonably suspected to be carrying such person or weapons.
  • Any person arrested and taken into custody under this Act shall be made present over to the officer in charge of the nearest police station with least possible delay, together with a report of the circumstances occasioning the arrest.
  • Army officers have legal immunity for their actions. There can be no prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under that law. Nor is the government's judgment on why an area is found to be disturbed subject to judicial review.
  • Protection of persons acting in good faith under this Act from prosecution, suit or other legal proceedings, except with the sanction of the Central Government, in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act.

Non-state views and commentary:-

United Nations view

When India presented its second periodic report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 1991, members of the UNHRC asked numerous questions about the validity of the AFSPA. They questioned the constitutionality of the AFSPA under Indian law and asked how it could be justified in light of Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR. On 23 March 2009, UN Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay asked India to repeal the AFSPA. She termed the law as "dated and colonial-era law that breach contemporary international human rights standards."[21]

On 31 March 2012, the UN asked India to revoke AFSPA saying it had no place in Indian democracy. Christof Heyns, UN's Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions said "During my visit to Kashmir, AFSPA was described to me as 'hated' and 'draconian'. It clearly violates International Law. A number of UN treaty bodies have pronounced it to be in violation of International Law as well."[22]

Non-governmental organizations' analysis

The act has been criticized by Human Rights Watch as a "tool of state abuse, oppression and discrimination".[23]

The South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre argues that the governments' call for increased force is part of the problem.[24]

A report by the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis points to multiple occurrences of violence by security forces against civilians in Manipur since the passage of the Act.[26] The report states that residents believe that the provision for immunity of security forces urge them to act more brutally.[26] The article, however, goes on to say that repeal or withering away of the act will encourage insurgency. Irom Chanu Sharmila also known as the "Iron Lady of Manipur" or "Mengoubi" ("the fair one")[1] is a civil rights activist, political activist, and poet from the Indian state of Manipur. On 2 November 2000,[2] she began a hunger strike which is still ongoing.On 2 November 2000, in Malom, a town in the Imphal Valley of Manipur, ten civilians were shot and killed while waiting at a bus stop. The incident, known as the "Malom Massacre",was allegedly committed by the Assam Rifles, one of the Indian Paramilitary forces operating in the state.

[27] In addition to this, there have been claims of disappearances by the police or the army in Kashmir by several human rights organizations.[28][29]

A soldier guards the roadside checkpoint outside Srinagar International Airport in January 2009.
Many human rights organizations such as
  • Presentation on Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 by Major General Nilendra Kumar, Director, Amity Law School Noida
  • Coverage on website of South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre
  • "Armed Forces Act to go from Imphal" - article dated 12 August 2004

External links

  1. ^ Krishna Pokharel for the Wall Street Journal. Jan 7, 2015. Indian Activist Presses 14-Year Hunger Strike to Protest Abuses; Court Postpones Decision Whether Irom Sharmila Chanu Should Be Charged Again
  3. ^ a b c
  4. ^ a b Muzamil Jaleel for the Indian Express. March 30, 2015. Explained: AFSPA-Disturbed Areas debate in J&K
  5. ^
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  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
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  16. ^ The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990” Indian Ministry of Law and Justice Published by the Authority of New Deli
  17. ^ a b
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ "(PDF) The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990" Indian Ministry of Law and Justice Published by the Authority of New Deli
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ "Crisis in Kashmir" Council on Foreign Relations
  24. ^
  25. ^ AFSPA South Asian HRDC
  26. ^ a b Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis, 'Manipur and Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958' "the alleged rape and killing of Manjab Manorama", "security forces have destroyed homes", "arrests without warrants", "widespread violations of humane rights", "The cases of Naga boys of Oinam village being tortured before their mothers by Assam rifles Jawans in July 1987; the killing of Amine Devi and her child of Bishnupur district on April 5, 1996 by a CRPF party; the abduction, torture and killing of 15-year-old Sanamacha of Angtha village by an Assam Rifles party on 12th February 1998; the shooting dead of 10 civilians by an Assam Rifles party in November 2000 are some of the glaring examples that are still fresh in the mind of Manipuris."
  27. ^
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See also

A high-power commission headed by the retired Supreme Court judge, Santosh Hegde was constituted in January 2013 to probe six encounter deaths in Manipur.[38] The committee, comprising former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde, ex-CEC J M Lyngdoh and a senior police officer, has said in its report that the probe showed that none of the victims had any criminal records.[39] The judicial commission set up by the Supreme Court is trying to make the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) more humane, and the security forces more accountable. The committee has suggested fixing a time frame of three months for the central government to decide whether to prosecute security personnel engaged in extrajudicial killings or unruly behaviour in insurgency-hit regions. The Commission noted that AFSPA was an impediment to achieving peace in regions such as Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast.The commission also said the law needs to be reviewed every six months to see whether its implementation is actually necessary in states where it is being enforced. About Section 6 of the act, which guarantees protection against prosecution to the armed forces, the report said: "It is not that no action can be taken at all. Action can be taken but with prior sanction of the central government.[40]

Santosh Hegde commission on Manipur encounter deaths

Earlier leaks had also stated that International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had reported to the United States diplomats in Delhi about the grave human rights situation in Kashmir which included the use of electrocution, beatings and sexual humiliation against hundreds of detainees. This act is in force in Kashmir since 1990.[37]

The Wikileaks diplomatic cables have recently disclosed that Indian government employees agree to acts of human rights violations on part of the Indian armed forces and various paramilitary forces deployed in the north east parts of India especially Manipur. The violations have been carried out under the cover of this very act. Governor S.S. Sidhu admitted to the American Consul General in Kolkata, Henry Jardine, that the Assam Rifles in particular are perpetrators of violations in Manipur which the very same cables described as a state that appeared more of a colony and less of an Indian state.[34][35] However, Indian general election, 2014 recorded nearly 80% voters turnout in Manipur.[36]

United States leaked diplomatic cables

Activists who are working in J&K for peace and human rights include names of Madhu Kishwar, Ashima Kaul, Ram Jethmalani, Faisal Khan, Ravi Nitesh, Swami Agnivesh, Dr. Sandeep Pandey and many others. They all accept that people to people communication and development of new avenues are the only way for peace, however laws like AFSPA are continuously violating human rights issues there."What [the Indian State] has failed to see is that such small, ethnic groups are resisting the Indian state for 55 years" says legal activist and scholar, Babloo Loitongbom[33]

[32] the Public Safety Act, since "a detainee may be held in administrative detention for a maximum of two years without a court order.".[31]
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