The Union government has decided to reduce the number of areas which fall under the ambit of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in Nagaland, Assam and Manipur, Home Minister Amit Shah said on Thursday. The decision will come into effect from Friday.

The Act gives Army personnel in disturbed areas sweeping powers to search, arrest, and to open fire if they deem it necessary for “the maintenance of public order”. In the North East, the law is currently in force in Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and three districts of Arunachal Pradesh.

According to a press release from the Union home ministry, following are the areas in which the Act will not apply from April 1:

  • Complete removal of AFSPA from 23 districts of Assam and partial removal from one district. There are a total of 33 districts in Assam
  • Fifteen police station jurisdictions in six of the 16 districts of Manipur. Earlier, the entire state, except the municipal limits of the capital city Imphal, was classified as disturbed area.
  • Fifteen police station jurisdictions in seven out of 15 districts in Nagaland. The entire state had been classified as disturbed area since 1995.

In a series of tweets on Thursday, Shah said that the decision to reduce the number of areas under the AFSPA was taken as a result of “the improved security situation and fast-tracked development” in the region.

He added that this was due to “consistent efforts and several agreements to end insurgency” and efforts to bring about lasting peace in the region.

“Thanks to PM Narendra Modi 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,” the Union home minister said. “I congratulate the people of North East on this momentous occasion.”

In the press note released on Thursday, the home ministry claimed that incidents of militancy in the North East have reduced by 74% between 2014 and 2021. It also said that the number of deaths of security personnel and civilians has reduced by 60% and 84% during this time.

The ministry also cited five agreements under which militant groups have agreed to lay down arms, and states announced the resolution of border disputes.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said that the Union government’s decision “marks the beginning of a new chapter in Assam’s future” and is a testimony to the “significant improvement in law and order” in the state.

“With peace getting primacy, North East is now on a new trajectory of growth & development,” Sarma said on Twitter. “I also compliment the people of Assam, who have believed in peace.”

The Assam chief minister said that with this decision, about 60% of the state’s area will be free from the purview of AFSPA, ANI reported.

Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh said that the decision will “lead to a new era of peace, prosperity and development” in the state.

“This historic decision is a result of the robust development and improved security situation under various initiatives taken up by [Modi] in the North East,” he said.

Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio expressed gratitude to the central government and said that this was a “significant development towards bringing stability, security & prosperity to the North East region”.

Demands for repeal

In recent months, chief ministers and various rights bodies in the North East have demanded the removal of AFSPA from their states. The demand gained prominence after the killing of 14 civilians by security forces in Mon district in December.

On December 20, the Nagaland Assembly had unanimously passed a resolution urging the Centre to withdraw AFSPA from the North East region, especially from Nagaland. However, on December 30, the Act was extended in the state for six months.

N Biren Singh had also said on January 23 that he and the people of Manipur wanted the withdrawal of the Act from the state. He said that “as a Manipuri and as chief minister of Manipur”, he wanted that the law be repealed from the state.

“But at the same time, it is not possible to do so without assessing the ground situation,” Singh had added, pointing out the political instability in Myanmar.

On March 1, the Assam government had declared the entire state as a “disturbed area” after reviewing the law and order situation in the preceding six months.