In a major outreach to the Northeast, Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Thursday announced reduction of the disturbed areas imposed under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act or AFSPA in Nagaland, Assam and Manipur from April 1, after decades.
A home ministry spokesperson, however, said the decision does not imply that the AFSPA has been completely withdrawn from the three insurgency-hit states but will continue to be in force in some areas of the three states.
The move came three months after the central government constituted a high-level committee to examine the possibility of lifting the AFSPA in Nagaland where 14 civilians were killed by the army in December 2021 in a case of "mistaken identity".
In a series of tweets, Shah said: "In a significant step, GoI (Government of India) under the decisive leadership of PM Shri @NarendraModi Ji has decided to reduce disturbed areas under Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the states of Nagaland, Assam and Manipur after decades."
The home minister said the reduction in areas under AFSPA is the result of the improved security situation and fast-tracked development due to the consistent efforts and several agreements to end insurgency and bring lasting peace in Northeast by the Modi government.
"Thanks to PM @NarendraModi Ji's unwavering commitment, our North-Eastern region, which was neglected for decades is now witnessing a new era of peace, prosperity and unprecedented development. I congratulate the people of North East on this momentous occasion," he said.
The AFSPA has been in force for decades in the three Northeastern states to assist the armed forces operating there to tackle insurgency.
The AFSPA empowers security forces to conduct operations and arrest anyone without any prior warrant besides giving immunity from arrest and prosecution to the security forces if they shoot someone dead.
There have been protests and demands for the complete withdrawal of the law from the Northeast as well as Jammu and Kashmir for its alleged "draconian" provisions.
Manipuri activist Irom Chanu Sharmila fought against the law by remaining on hunger strike for 16 years, before ending it on August 9 in 2016.
The disturbed area notification under AFSPA was completely removed from Tripura in 2015 and Meghalaya in 2018.
The disturbed area notification is in force in entire Assam since 1990. Due to the significant improvement in the situation, the AFSPA is being removed with effect from April 1 completely from 23 districts and partially from one district of Assam.
The disturbed area declaration is in force in entire Manipur (except Imphal municipality area) since 2004. With Thursday's decision, 15 police station areas of 6 districts of Manipur will be excluded from the disturbed area notification with effect from April 1.
In 2015, AFSPA was in force in 3 districts of Arunachal Pradesh, 20 km belt of Arunachal Pradesh along the Assam border and in 16 police station areas in 9 other districts of the state.
This has been gradually reduced and the disturbed areas notification, is currently applicable in only 3 districts and in 2 police station areas in 1 other district of Arunachal Pradesh.
The disturbed area notification is in force in the whole of Nagaland from 1995. The central government has accepted the recommendation of a committee constituted in this context for withdrawal of AFSPA in a phased manner.
The disturbed area notification is being withdrawn from 15 police stations in 7 districts in Nagaland with effect from April 1.
The killing of 14 civilians rose tension in Nagaland, where people protested for weeks for the withdrawal of the AFSPA.
Before the recently concluded assembly elections, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh had said he and the people of Manipur wanted the withdrawal of the AFSPA but security agencies have to look into the issue of the national security.
A home ministry spokesperson said in comparison to 2014, there has been a reduction of 74 per cent in militancy incidents in 2021 in the Northeast. Similarly, deaths of security personnel and civilians have also come down by 60 per cent and 84 per cent respectively during this period.
To realise the prime minister's vision of a peaceful and prosperous Northeast, the home minister has held a dialogue with all the states of the region on a continuous basis.
As a result, most of the extremist groups have laid down their arms expressing their faith in the Constitution and the policies of the Modi government.
Today all these persons have become a part of the democratic process and are participating in the peace and development of the Northeast. About 7,000 militants have surrendered in the last few years, the spokesperson said.
The prime minister is committed to make the whole of the Northeast free from extremism, the spokesperson said.