The government is considering a change in one of the most controversial provision of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or AFSPA that would no longer allow soldiers to use extreme force in disturbed areas. Sources told NDTV that the phrase ''even causing of death'' is being removed from a paragraph that describes when a soldier can open fire in insurgency-hit areas.
In insurgency-hit areas, the Armed Forces' Special Powers Act allows soldiers to use arrest, use force and even open fire on anyone in contravention of the law. But over the years, there have been allegations of army excesses from residents in insurgency-hit areas.
The law states if a soldier "is of opinion that it is necessary so to do for the maintenance of public order, after giving such due warning as he may consider necessary, fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law or order..."
Critics say the change, if made, will dilute the law that gives the army special powers to contain the challenges in disturbed areas. A case pending in the Supreme Court, in which more than 300 soldiers have appealed against any dilution of AFSPA.
Activists have, for years, alleged extra-judicial killings in areas where AFSPA is in force. In Manipur, activist Irom Chanu Sharmila fasted for 16 years in protest against AFSPA.
Two years ago, the Supreme Court discouraged the use of excessive force in a landmark judgment. Last year, it upheld the decision that directed the government to investigate every such case.
Sources said the Home Ministry proposal to amend AFSPA says the government will not hesitate to extend the law to disturbed areas and back the use of lethal force where required. But the provision of shooting to cause death is being removed to ensure that the force used is proportionate.
Alongside that, a new mechanism will be added to address grievances of citizens who complain of unfair treatment. They will be examined by the forces before an advisory body looks into the report.
The AFSPA has been in force in Nagaland, Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir for several decades, and since the early 1990s in Assam. Rights groups have been demanding its withdrawal claiming the law gives "sweeping powers" to the security forces to act against civilians.