Tripura shrinks scope of AFSPA

Agartala, June 5 (IANS) The Tripura government Wednesday reduced the area under which a stringent law that gives sweeping powers to paramilitary troopers could be deployed, a top official said.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA) was first enforced in 40 of the 70 police station areas in Tripura in February 1997, when terrorism was its peak in this northeastern state.

“With the improvement of the law and order situation, and with militancy being largely controlled, the AFSPA can now be enforced in 32 police station areas instead of 40,” Tripura Chief Secretary Sanjay Kumar Panda told reporters.

According to the official, of the 32 police station areas, the AFSPA would be effective fully in 25 police station areas, and partly in seven.

The state cabinet headed by Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, after considering the reports of the director general of police, Tuesday decided on the partial withdrawal of the controversial AFSPA.

Panda said: “From now onwards, vehicles can ply through the national highway (NH-44) up to 8 p.m. instead of earlier 6 p.m. However, patrolling of the security forces along the national highway would continue till 8 p.m.”

In view of the terrorism and attacks on the vehicles by the separatist outfits, plying of vehicles have been restricted on National Highway 44, the lifeline of Tripura, linking it with the rest of the country through southern Assam.

“Though four-and-a-half-decade-old terrorism has been tamed in Tripura, the Left Front government is averse to taking any chances for some more time,” a senior police official told IANS, responding the demands for the total withdrawal of AFSPA.

The Act provides unlimited powers to the security forces to shoot at sight, arrest anybody without a warrant, and carry out searches without hindrance.

It also insulates the security forces from legal processes for any action undertaken under the act.

Local rights groups and political parties, especially the tribal-based Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT), describe the Act as “draconian” and want it repealed.

“Innocent people are victimised by the security forces in the name of anti-insurgency operations,” said Nagendra Jamatia, former minister and a senior leader of the INPT, an electoral ally of the opposition Congress.

“Demand for repealing the AFSPA was one of the issues in our movement against the Left Front government,” Jamatia told IANS.

According to the leaders of INPT and other tribal-based parties, several hundred tribal youth have been either detained or arrested under the AFSPA over the years.

Besides Tripura, the AFSPA is also in force in Manipur (excluding the Imphal Municipal Council area), Assam and Nagaland, and in the Tirap and Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh.

Human rights activist Irom Chanu Sharmila of Manipur has been on an indefinite hunger strike for 13 years, demanding withdrawal of the act.

Tripura’s two militant outfits – National Liberation Front of Tripura and the All Tripura Tiger Force – both banned by the Indian authorities, have set up their bases in Bangladesh and get support from other separatist outfits of the northeast. They have been demanding the secession of Tripura from India.

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