THREE WEEKS after six civilians were killed in an Army ambush on December 4, and eight more in violence triggered by the incident in Nagaland’s Mon district, the Union government Sunday instituted a high-level committee chaired by a Secretary-level officer to examine the possibility of withdrawing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in Nagaland. The committee will submit its report within 45 days.
According to officials, Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India Vivek Joshi will head the five-member committee and Additional Secretary in the Union Home Ministry Piyush Goyal will be its Member-Secretary. The Chief Secretary and Director General of Police of Nagaland and the DGP of Assam Rifles will be the other members of the committee, they said.
Earlier in the day, a press statement signed by Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, Deputy CM Yanthungo Patton and Naga People’s Front Legislature Party leader TR Zeliang said the decision to set up the committee was taken in a meeting chaired by Union Home Minister Amit Shah on December 23. Convened to discuss the present scenario in Nagaland, the meeting was attended by Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma as well.
“The committee will submit its report within 45 days and withdrawal of Disturbed Area and AFSPA from Nagaland will be based on the recommendations of the committee,” the statement said.
In the December 23 meeting with the Union Home Minister, the Nagaland delegation impressed upon him to replace the Assam Rifles unit in Mon district with immediate effect.
Panel may calm frayed nerves
THE setting up of a committee to consider AFSPA repeal in Nagaland will assuage public sentiments in the north-eastern state after civilians were killed on December 4-5. The panel will consider the views of state police and Central security forces before submitting a report in 45 days.
The demands for repeal of AFSPA – an Act that gives sweeping powers to the armed forces to arrest without warrants and even shoot to kill in certain situations in ‘disturbed areas’ – from Nagaland and other north-eastern states have been growing louder since the December 4-5 incidents. Over the last few weeks, the state witnessed massive protest rallies in eastern districts as well as capital Kohima for the law to be scrapped.
Right after the December 4 incident, Rio had called for its repeal stating that Nagaland had “always opposed AFSPA”. Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma too had demanded in a tweet on December 6 that “AFSPA should be repealed”.
In a special one-day session on December 20, the Nagaland Assembly had unanimously resolved to demand the repeal of AFSPA. It said that the House “appreciated and supported” citizens and civil society organisations over their demand for the repeal of AFSPA and delivery of justice and appealed to “all sections to follow democratic norms and non-violence in the collective endeavour towards realisation of peace and delivery of justice”.
The three signatories to the statement also said they were “grateful” to the Union Home Minister Amit Shah for “taking the matter with utmost seriousness” and appreciated the Centre for taking the required steps to ensure justice and “positively responding to the voices of the people”.
The statement on Sunday also said that “a Court of Enquiry will initiate disciplinary proceedings against the army unit and army personnel who are directly involved in the Oting incident and action will be taken immediately on the basis of fair enquiry”. “The identified persons who will face the enquiry will be placed under suspension with immediate effect,” it said.
During the meeting with the Union Home Minister, it was also decided Nagaland would provide government jobs to the next of the kin of the deceased, the statement said. “To initiate this process, the Deputy Commissioner, and the Superintendent of Police of Mon district, will carry out necessary procedures in consultation with the concerned village councils and government jobs will be given on compassionate grounds on the basis of eligibility,” it said.
In March 2018, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs ordered removal of AFSPA completely from Meghalaya. In Arunachal Pradesh too, AFSPA was removed from several police stations during 2018 and 2019; at present in the state, only three districts and four police stations that border Assam are under AFSPA.