Important SSB Lecturette & GD Topic

Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) – Powers, History, Opposition



Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is a series of act created by the Indian Parliament that empowers armed forces to maintain public order in disturbed areas.

Article 355 of the Indian Constitution confers power to the Central Government to protect every state from internal disturbance.

Armed forces get the authority to prohibit a gathering of five or more persons in an area.

The act gives forces the power to arrest any person without warrant only on the basis of suspicion, enter or search premises without warrant and ban the possession of firearms.

A person taken into custody may be handed over to the nearest police station.

An area is declared disturbed by notification under Section 3 of the AFSPA.

An area can be disturbed due to differences or disputes between members of different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities.

The Central Government, or the Governor of the State or Administrator of the Union Territory can declare the whole or part of the State or Union Territory as a disturbed area.

A suitable notification should be made in the Official Gazette.

AFSPA can be invoked in places where “the use of armed forces in aid of the civil power is necessary”.

History of AFSPA:

The act dates back to the British era when in order to crush Quit India Movement of 1942, four ordinances were promulgated for disturbed areas (Special Powers of Armed Forces) in Bengal, Assam, East Bengal and the United Provinces.

These acts were again invoked by the Central Government to tackle severe security crisis in the country in 1947 in the wake of partition.

Later, the act reemerged to quell violence in the internal security matters.

The act was promulgated for the first time in 1958 by the then President Dr. Rajendra Prasad as Armed Forces Special Powers (Assam and Manipur) Act to cull the violence in North Eastern states.

The act has been imposed on Punjab and Chandigarh in 1983 and also in Jammu and Kashmir in 1990.

Almost entire North East has experienced the imposition of this act and even its repromulgation times and again.


Powers given by AFSPA:

According to this act, armed forces are given powers to:

Use any kind of force against the person who acts against law and order for the maintenance of public order even if it causes death under Section 4 of the Act.

Stop and search any vehicle suspected of carrying arms or suspected person.

Destroy arms dump, hide-outs, prepared or fortified shelter or training camp for armed volunteers, gangs or absconders.

Army officers have legal immunity for their actions. Moreover, the government’s judgement over declaring an area disturbed is beyond judicial review.

Offer protection to persons acting in good faith under this act from prosecution, suit or legal proceedings except with the sanction of the Central Government.

Opposition of the Act:

The act is largely opposed because of the impunity it provides against human rights abuses, violence unleashed and the infringement of fundamental rights.

The 16 year long fast undertaken by Irom Sharmila against the imposition of the act in Manipur shows the anger people harbor against this act.

The constitutionality of the AFSPA under Indian law is questioned and its relevance in the light of the Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR is also put into scrutiny.

Civil rights activists have requested to repeal the AFSPA terming it as outdated, colonial era law that breaches contemporary human rights standards.

Supreme Court has upheld the validity of the AFSPA while recommending certain corrective provisions.

A committee headed by B P Jeevan Reddy recommended repeal of the law and insertion of appropriate provisions in Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.

The 5th report of Second Administrative Reforms Commission on public order also recommended repeal of the act.



AFSPA has been largely removed from most of the areas in the North East and is operational in certain pockets only.

The decline in the terrorist or extremist activities and maintenance of peace for a considerable time results in the removal of these provisions.

Sincere and concerted efforts continuously made by civil society, armed forces, Centre and States can help find a lasting and peaceful solutions for the festering problems.