India: Northeastern State Lifts Emergency Law

By Altaf Ahmad

2015-06-02
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150602-IN-tripura-620 A paramilitary stands guard above a highway in the Atharamura Hills, in the Indian state of Tripura, Aug. 11, 2007.
AFP

Residents of Tripura, in northeastern India, are looking forward to opportunities for regional development now that the state just revoked a draconian emergency law that was in force for 18 years because of an insurgency.

“I am hopeful that the ignored far-off tribal areas will now receive the attention of the government, as normalcy is gaining ground with each passing day,” Sanjay Kumar, 32, a civil engineer from Dhalai district in Tripura who lives in New Delhi, told BenarNews.

“Earlier, the government could not focus on development as its top priority was to fight the insurgency.”

After reviewing the law and order situation in Tripura, state officials last week rescinded the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

“In the wake of a steep decline in violence-related acts, the council of ministers decided to withdraw the act from the entire state,” Firstpost quoted Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar as saying.

“However, the security forces are still expected to remain alert in the state.”

Among other powers, the act empowers security forces to arrest people without a warrant and shoot suspects on sight in troubled areas, while granting personnel immunity from prosecution.

Tripura became the first state in India’s restive northeast to rescind the law.

“Although late, the decision came much to the respite of people of the state. The armed forces would often commit excesses on citizens under the garb of this Act,” Girdari Lal, an academic from Tripura, told BenarNews.

“Revocation of this draconian act will help strengthen normalcy in the state, which witnessed turbulence over past many years,” he added. “Also huge expenditure incurred on armed forces deployed in the state would now be used for developmental works as the forces would be gradually removed from many areas.”

Act fostered repression: activist

The state first enforced the act in February 1997, when a separatist movement by different armed insurgent groups was at its peak.

The National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) spearheaded the fight for Tripura to secede from the Indian union, but they are now almost non-existent.

Hundreds of militants were arrested over the past five years, and Tripura witnessed a sharp decline in insurgency-related incidents. Last year, voters in the state demonstrated their full faith in democracy with more than 84 percent turning out for parliamentary polls, according to media reports.

“Given the improvement in the situation, the act should have been withdrawn much earlier,” Prasanjeet Biswas, a human rights activist and professor of philosophy at Sikkim University, told BenarNews. “Security forces committed repression while enjoying immunity under the act.”

Now that Tripura has revoked the emergency law, democratic institutions in the region should be further strengthened and its tribespeople – especially those living in remote areas – should be given all of the basic facilities needed to improve their lives, he added.

Call to abolish act in Kashmir

The controversial law remains in force in the northeastern states of Manipur, Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram, as well as in two districts of Arunachal Pradesh. It is also in force in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where separatist insurgents are still active.

Just days after the state government in Tripura rescinded AFSPA, the opposition National Conference (NC) party, which ruled Jammu & Kashmir until March 1, called on its new government to follow Tripura’s example.

"The National Conference demands the immediate revocation of AFSPA from Jammu and Kashmir as was done in Tripura," an NC  resolution said, according to Firstpost.

"Our party is of the firm belief that further continuation of the act is not in sync with the significant decrease in violence that has been achieved in the past six years,” the opposition party added.

“NC working president and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had actively strived for the revocation of the act, and the party shall continue its struggle to get AFSPA revoked.”

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