The Manipur government on Wednesday stated that the “disturbed area” status under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act will remain in place in the hill areas of the state for six more months in view of the prevailing law and order situation.
The order, issued by the state government’s home department, clarified that it does not apply to the valley areas under the jurisdiction of 19 police stations, including the capital Imphal.
AFSPA gives the army sweeping executive powers and a degree of immunity for prosecution in civilian courts. In areas declared “disturbed”, it allows armed forces to open fire, even causing death, against any person in contravention of the law or carrying arms and ammunition.
The development comes amid fresh unrest in Manipur after the government said that two Meitei students – Hijam Linthoingambi (17) and Phijam Hemjit (20) – who had gone missing in July have been murdered. They are suspected to have been killed by Kuki militants, according to the Imphal Police.
On Monday, the state government said that the inquiry of the case has been transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation. It also urged citizens to exercise restraint and allow the authorities to investigate the killings.
Despite this, thousands of students on Tuesday held protests in Imphal. Videos showed the security forces resorting to baton charging and firing tear gas shells to disperse the protestors. Following this, the government reimposed the ban on internet services for the next five days. It also ordered the closing down all schools in Manipur on September 27 and 28.
The Wednesday order will come into effect on October 1. When the six-month period is over, the order can be periodically extended by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs after assessing the situation.
The government has said that a detailed assessment on the ground could not be done as “sister agencies” are currently preoccupied with maintaining law and order. It has also stated that it was not appropriate to review the “disturbed area” status without a detailed assessment.
Manipur has had the “disturbed area” status since 1980. In 2004, it was withdrawn from some parts of Imphal. It was removed from areas under 15 police stations in 2022 and four more police stations on April 1 this year, according to The Hindu.
The areas that are not declared “disturbed” in Manipur currently are Imphal, Lamphel, City, Singjamei, Lamsang, Patsoi, Wangoi, Porompat, Heingang, Lamlai, Irilbung, Leimakhong, Thoubal, Bishnupur, Nambol, Moirang, Kakching and Jiribam.
Since the conflict broke out between the Meiteis and the Kukis in Manipur on May 3, the state has witnessed over 200 deaths. Nearly 60,000 persons have been forced to flee their homes. The state has reported cases of rape and murder, and mobs have looted police armoury and set several homes on fire despite the heavy presence of central security forces.