The Assam government quietly extended the operation of the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in the entire state last week, when national attention was focussed on the elections in three states in the region. The extension for six months was notified on February 28 and announced on March 3. The decision has disappointed all those who value human rights and the right of people to live their lives in accordance with the normal laws of the land. There has been continued opposition to the use of the law within the state and outside. The AFSPA is a special law meant for special situations. It gives arbitrary and unquestionable powers to the security forces to search and arrest citizens without a warrant and to shoot at sight. It also gives immunity to soldiers for their actions. Though the Supreme Court last year questioned such absolute impunity, the Act continues to be used as a shield for violation of normal and constitutional rights.
The Union home ministry had indicated last year that the AFSPA may be lifted from some parts of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. This must have been because even in the ministry's reckoning the situation in some areas did not warrant the continuation of the Act. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said only last week that there was peace in Assam and the era of violence was over. He also said that 80% of the insurgency in the North-East has come to an end. The security forces have also held the view that the situation has improved in the state. That shows that there was no reason and justification for the extension of the Act in the state.
The state government held a global investors' meet last month, projecting the state as peaceful and possessing an investment-friendly climate. It has claimed that the meet was successful and saw major investment proposals from public sector and private companies, business leaders and foreign investors. But within a few weeks, the government declared the whole state as "disturbed" and notified the AFSPA extension. No business would like to invest in a place which the government itself declares as troubled and difficult to govern with normal laws. Even disturbed conditions and situations are not to be dealt with by giving unrestricted powers to the security forces, making them unaccountable, and suspending the normal and constitutional rights of citizens. That will only make the people hostile and make the fight against insurgency, militancy or other troubles more difficult. Assam has been under the AFSPA since 1990, and if the state continues to be disturbed, that is the best reason to lift it altogether.