By Oken Jeet Sandham
Kohima, Jul 27 : Three generations in the North-east have grown under the shadow of the Disturbed Area Act and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. Once any area is declared “disturbed” as per Section 3 of the AF(SP) Act, the Army is empowered to step in and any commissioned/non-commissioned/warrant officer or any other person of the equivalent rank can arrest, without warrant, any person who has committed a cognisable offence or against whom reasonable suspicion exists that he/she has committed such an offence and if he is of the opinion that it is necessary to use force for maintenance of public order and can fire upon or otherwise use force, even causing death.
The troops can enter and search without warrants any premises to make any such arrest as aforesaid or to recover any person believed to be wrongfully restrained and confined or any property reasonably suspected of being stolen or any arms, ammunition or explosive substances believed to be unlawfully kept in such premises, and may for that purpose use such force as may be necessary. The Act simply gives carte blanche to the troops in the name of assisting the civil administration. The Act must go and should no more be used in this modern and civilised era.
The Act was enacted on 11 September, 1958 and Nagaland became the first laboratory for the Indian Army to experiment. Only after decades, educated people realised the harmful consequences of the law. Nagaland has been enjoying some semblance of peace after the July 1997 ceasefire accord with the NSCN(IM). But the state is tense again with the NSCN(K) mounting attacks on security forces after unilaterally abrogating its 14-year truce with Delhi in March this year. Civil societies, the state government and many stakeholders have asked the Centre and NSCN(K) leaders to resume the truce.
While reimposing the Disturbed Areas Act in Nagaland, the Centre claimed, in a gazette notification, that the whole of Nagaland was in such a disturbed or dangerous condition that the use of armed forces in aid of civil power was necessary. It will remain in force for a year, beginning 30 June 2015. Chief minister TR Zeliang and several civil societies in Nagaland have expressed displeasure and anguish over the Centre’s decision and want its immediate revocation.
For nearly 14 years when the NSCN(K) was observing a truce with the Centre, Nagaland enjoyed peace. Even leaders of various Naga underground factions developed good rapport among themselves through the efforts of the Naga Forum for Reconciliation that came into being in 2008.
After Neiphiu Rio became chief minister of Nagaland in 2003, his government had constantly opposed Delhi’s attempts to reimpose the “Disturbed Area” tag since the situation was nowhere as serious as in the 1980s or early 1990s.
It is unfortunate that before reimposing the Act New Delhi did not think it necessary to take Union minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju into confidence. He comes from Arunachal Pradesh. It now appears that the Distubed Area Act will continue to remain in force in Nagaland even if the Naga political issue is resolved. It is time the Centre realised how anti-democratic the Act is against fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.