Editorial Analysis for Civil Services - Bad Bank




The killing of 14 civilians in a botched military operation in Nagaland has led to fresh calls for repealing The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), a stringent law that allows the armed forces to use maximum force in an area declared as ‘disturbed’.



  • The AFSPA like many other controversial laws is of a colonial origin.
  • The AFSPA was first enacted as an ordinance in the backdrop of Quit India Movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi in 1942.
  • A day after its launch on August 8, 1942, the movement became leaderless and turned violent at many places across the country.
  • Shaken by the massive scale of violence across the country, the then Viceroy Linlithgow promulgated the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Ordinance, 1942.
  • This Ordinance practically gave the Armed Forces a “license to kill” when faced with internal disturbances.
  • On the lines of this ordinance, the Indian government promulgated four ordinances in 1947 to deal with internal security issues and unrest arising due to partition in four provinces Bengal, Assam, East Bengal and the United Provinces.


Status of AFSPA:

  • The AFSPA has been in force for decades in most parts of the Northeast States.
  • Under this law, an area can be declared a ‘disturbed area’, bringing into play the protection it offers to the armed forces for use of force in the notified area.
  • The notification is extended periodically, mostly for six months at a time.
  • As of today, the whole of Assam and Nagaland are ‘disturbed areas’.The last six-month extension was made on August 28 and June 30 respectively.
  • The whole of Manipur, with the exception of the Imphal municipal area, has been notified by the State government for one year from December 2020.
  • In Arunachal Pradesh, the ‘disturbed area notification is confined to the districts of Tirap, Changlang and Longding, and the areas falling under Namsai and Mahadevpur police stations, bordering Assam.
  • The AFSPA was revoked in Tripura in May 2015, after being in force since February 1997. It was revoked by a decision of the State Cabinet following substantial improvement in the ground situation.
  • Meghalaya was under AFSPA for 27 years, until it was revoked from April 1, 2018.
  • The Act was implemented in a 20-km area along the border with Assam.
  • Jammu and Kashmir has a separate J&K Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1990.


Details of this Controversial legislation:
  • The Act empowers the Governor of any State, or the Administrator of a Union Territory, or the Central Government to notify parts of or the whole of a State or a Union Territory as a ‘disturbed area’, if they consider that the condition in such areas is so dangerous or disturbed that the use of the armed forces is necessary in aid of civil power.
  • In such a notified area, any officer of the armed forces may fire upon or use force, even to the point of causing death, against any person for the maintenance of public order.
  • This must be done after giving due warning as considered necessary, and the target must be a person who is contravening any law, or order prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons, and carrying weapons, firearms or ammunition.
  • The Act allows arrest and search of any premises without a warrant in a notified area, and the recovery of any confined person, or any arms and ammunition stored unlawfully.
  • The armed forces may also destroy any hideout, or arms dump or fortified area or shelter from which armed attacks are being launched, or any arms training is being carried out.
  • No person can be prosecuted or subjected to any legal proceedings for action taken under the Act, without the Central Government’s previous sanction.


  • Sincere effortsshould be made continuously by the  civil society, the Armed Forces, the States and the Government of India to find a lasting and peaceful solution.
  • AFSPA should be amended to make it more comprehensive, with elaborate rules with respect to the manner of investigations of alleged human rights violations to reduce the possibility of it being abused.

Source: THE HINDU.