Agartala: Finally, Manipur’s ‘Iron Lady’ Irom Chanu Sharmila’s struggle for revocation of the controversial – if not draconian – Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) seems to have borne fruit. Of course, not in her home state, but in her neighbourhood nonetheless.
The Manik Sarkar-led Left Front government in Tripura has finally done which no other State has been able to thus far – withdraw the AFSPA. And, in the process, it has also become the first State to come out of its shadows.
Perhaps, much to the delight of human rights activists across the country, Sarkar announced before the media here on 28th May that due to improvement in the overall law and order situation attributed to terrorism, AFSPA was being lifted from Tripura.
Sarkar announced: ‘In view of the significant taming of terrorism, the council of ministers today decided to withdraw the AFSPA from the entire state.’
The Act has been in force in the State since February 1997 when separatist-led insurgency peaked during the 1990s. Demanding secession, cadres of the National Liberation Front of Tripura and All Tripura Tiger Force had then let loose a reign of terror.
According to the Chief Minister, there were 42 police stations (PS) when the Act was imposed and two-third of PS areas were under it. Subsequently, the number of PS was increased to 74 and AFSPA was in force in 40 PS areas.
However, in view of the improvement in the situation and fewer militancy-related incidents, the Tripura government reduced operational areas of the AFSPA to 30 police station areas in June 2013.
AFSPA has been in force in Jammu & Kashmir, besides the North-eastern States of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura.
Termed draconian by human rights activists, the Act gives security forces sweeping powers like the right to shoot and arrest anybody on mere suspicion, besides carry out search operations without any authorisation even as they are exempt from any legal scrutiny. Irom Sharmila has been on an indefinite fast since 2nd November 2000 demanding repeal of the Act from Manipur after the infamous ‘Malom Massacre’ where security forces allegedly shot dead 10 civilians at a bus stand at Malom township.
The Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura and the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura have for long been demanding withdrawal of the Act, alleging that it was aimed at suppressing the State’s 33% tribal population. (ENe)