The Manipur government has decided to extend the imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) for an additional six months in the entire state, except for specific areas within the Imphal Valley. This decision has been made in response to the security situation, particularly in the hill districts dominated by tribal communities, where ethnic violence and insurgent activities have been on the rise. The government’s decision contrasts with the army’s demand for the re-imposition of AFSPA in the valley districts to aid counterinsurgency efforts.
The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) is a controversial law that grants extensive powers to the armed forces and Central security forces in “disturbed areas.” These powers include the authority to use force, arrest without a warrant, and legal immunity from prosecution without the Union government’s approval.
Status Quo in Manipur:
The “disturbed area” status under AFSPA will continue to apply in all hill districts of Manipur but has been gradually lifted from the valley districts, mainly inhabited by the Meitei community, due to improvements in the security situation.
Resurgence of Insurgent Groups:
Recent ethnic violence in Manipur has provided a resurgence opportunity for insurgent groups, many of which operate from neighboring Myanmar and advocate for Manipur’s secession from India. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is investigating a transnational conspiracy by these groups to wage war against the government amidst the ongoing ethnic unrest.
Ethnic Violence Toll:
Since May 3, ethnic violence between the majority Meitei and tribal Kuki communities has led to at least 175 civilian casualties, marking the highest death toll in the state since 1999. In 2005, 158 people were killed during similar violence.
The Manipur government is considering a “one district, one force” deployment strategy for improved security operations. In addition to the State police, around 40,000 Central security forces, including the army, are deployed in the state.
The government’s notification justifying the extension of AFSPA mentions that a comprehensive assessment of the ground situation is challenging due to security agencies’ focus on maintaining law and order. It emphasizes that the “disturbed area” status is a sensitive matter and must be handled carefully to avoid public criticism and resistance.
AFSPA Withdrawal History:
AFSPA has been in force in Manipur since 1981 and even earlier in Naga-dominated areas since 1958. However, it was gradually withdrawn from certain areas, including the Imphal Municipality area in 2004, and from various police station areas in 2022 and 2023.
Authority to Issue AFSPA Notifications:
Both the State and Union governments have the authority to issue AFSPA notifications. Currently, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs has issued such notifications only for Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, while Manipur and Assam have issued their own notifications.