The Home Ministry has given the green light to personnel of the paramilitary force Assam Rifles to arrest anyone and search a place without warrant in five states in the northeast. The Assam Rifles has long been engaged in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations in the northeast.
Though they are protected by the Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act in some areas in the northeast, the AFSPA was removed from some pockets in Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh after the centre decided the threat from insurgents and terrorists has ceased.
The latest announcement by the Home Ministry, which controls the Assam Rifles, gives them some protection in areas within states where the AFSPA - a law that allows security forces to operate unhindered by civil systems - has been removed.
"An officer of the rank corresponding to that of the lowest rank of members of the Assam Rifles" has been given powers to arrest and search without warrant under the Code of Criminal Procedure or CrPC, the Home Ministry said in a notification.
The Assam Rifles personnel get this protection under the CrPC in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram.
The Home Ministry said the Assam Rifles, which also guards the border with Myanmar, needed "suitable powers" for "effective enforcement of Free Movement Regime on the Indo-Myanmar border (on the 16 km-belt on either side)". The Free Movement Regime was streamlined after the bilateral agreement between India and Myanmar on Land Border Crossing was finalised in 2018.
Section 41 of the CrPC says a police officer may, without an order from a magistrate and without a warrant, arrest any person - a key requirement for forces to act effectively during fast-developing anti-terror or counter-insurgency operations when suspects take shelter in a crowded urban environment.
The Army also operates under the cover of AFSPA in some areas.
The Home Ministry's order is likely to run into protests in Manipur and other northeast states, where violence has broken out in the past against the AFSPA, since the new order under the CrPC gives powers similar to the one contained in the AFSPA.
In 2004, Manipur saw massive protests against the Assam Rifles after a local woman, Thangjam Manorama, who was accused of being an insurgent was allegedly killed by the force. The centre then shifted out the paramilitary force from its sprawling base in state capital Imphal and gave the land back to the state as it was a heritage area. The AFSPA was also lifted from some municipal areas in Imphal following the protests.
The Assam Rifles was raised in in 1835 as a militia called the 'Cachar Levy', the paramilitary force says on its website. The force has grown substantially from 17 battalions in 1960 to 46 battalions at present, its website says.