AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act): Advantages, Disadvantages, AFSPA UPSC

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

AFSPA, also known as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958 is a Parliamentary act granting some exceptional powers to the Armed Forces of India and paramilitary & state police forces. The state and areas with these armed forces are categorized as disturbed regions. The main objective of the AFSPA Act is to provide the armed forces with the necessary powers and legal immunity to tackle serious law and order situations arising from insurgency or other disturbances in the affected areas.

AFSPA UPSC topic finds its relevance under the Indian Polity section of the IAS syllabus. In this article, we will briefly discuss all the aspects of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958, which would be beneficial during the UPSC exam preparation.

What is AFSPA?

AFSPA is a legislative act that gives exceptional powers to armed or security forces and state & parliamentary police forces for maintaining and regulating law and orders in disturbed areas.


  • Under this Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the Indian army and police (both central & state) get the power to shoot and kill rebels or protestors, search homes or properties that seem to be used by rebels and destroy them.
  • All this is imposed on disturbed areas declared by Indian Home Ministry.
  • The AFSPA act gives security forces the power to arrest people who have committed or attempted to commit any knowable offence without any arrest warrant.
  • It is applicable even if the offence is based on reasonable suspicion.
  • With the support of this act, security forces get legal liberty for their actions to maintain laws in disturbed areas.
  • The impact of AFSPA can be seen both in its favour and against. While government and armed forces justify it as reducing aggressiveness and rebellion, on the others side, some critics see human rights violations in this act.

Armed Forces Powers Under AFSPA

The AFSPA act provides special powers and legal immunity to armed forces in disturbed areas. These powers justify the following acts of armed forces against protestors or people violating laws and orders.

  • Armed forces in disturbed areas are free to use any potency against people acting against law or order, even if it causes death, to maintain public security and order.
  • The AFSPA act gives power and freedom to armed forces to demolish any arms monstrosity, hide-outs, shelter, training camp, runaways, or other places where volunteers and gangs can make armed attacks or any other offence.
  • Forces can arrest any person without an arrest warrant who has committed knowable offences or is suspected of attempting any knowable offences. Armed forces can use any power to arrest such a person if required.
  • Additionally, if the armed force arrests any person and takes him into custody under the AFSPA act, they shall present over to the in-charge officer of the nearest police station without any delay along with the report of the situation that caused the arrest.
  • Armed forces can search any building or premises of disturbed areas to arrest such persons and rescue people unlawfully restrained. The premises can also be checked if suspected of hiding explosives or other hazardous weapons.
  • Using the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, they can stop and search vehicles or vessels if they are suspected of carrying such persons or dangerous weapons.
  • All the armed forces and army officers have legal immunity for every action they take in disturbed areas under AFSPA. Any army person or officer, including state and parliament police of a disturbed area, does not have to face any prosecutor actions, suit, or other legal proceedings for any of their acts. Moreover, even the government does not make any judgment on an area being subject to judicial review upon recognising it as a disturbed area.
  • This AFSPA Act also protects a person from any suit, prosecution, or legal proceeding who acts in good faith in the area or has no intention of creating aggressiveness or violence. However, it excludes the approval of the Central Government to exercise the powers discussed by this Act.

Disadvantages of AFSPA

Many critics oppose the AFSPA act on the grounds of providing liberty for human rights abuses or violating them, unleashing violence, and adding fuel to the sequences of violence happening in disturbed areas.

  • Many human rights activists have raised great questions about the Armed Forces Special Powers Act’s validity in protecting human rights.
  • Not only in India, but the AFSPA act has several questions from several international experts about its constitutionality under Indian law.
  • They even questioned how this act could be justified while considering Article 4 of the ICCPR’.
  • Furthermore, they have also requested to revoke the AFSPA act as they believe it is an outdated and colonial-era law that violates current human rights standards.
  • Most often, the AFSPA act is illustrated as the most despicable and draconian law that undoubtedly violates international laws.

Advantages of AFSPA Act

As per the armed forces, AFSPA supports & enhances border protection, mitigates violence & insurgency, and many such favourable arguments. Armed forces support entirely and agree with the AFSPA act.

  • According to the armed forces, the act has given them the power and capability to protect borders for long years efficiently.
  • Armed forces believe that the AFSPA act increases the effectiveness of reducing rebellion. A strict law is required to deal with insurgent elements of the country, especially in northeastern regions and Kashmir.
  • Armed forces believe the act boosts their mental well-being and ensures law and order in disturbed areas. And if the act is revoked, it can lead to revolutionaries motivating citizens to file suits against the armed forces.
  • According to the armed forces, revoking this law can have bad effects on operational requirements. Only the state armed forces’ security capacity might not be sufficient for the assigned role.
  • They believe that the AFSPA act provides sufficient safeguards for civilians also.

AFSPA States

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act, when it was first promulgated, was confined to certain “disturbed areas” in the hills of North-east India. A disturbed area is defined as one that is declared so by a notification under section 3 of the AFSPA. It may be invoked in places “where the use of armed forces in aid of civil power is necessary”. Moreover, the union government, the state government, or even the administrator of a Union Territory has the power to declare a whole state or a part of the whole state as a “disturbed area”.

  • Currently, the AFSPA is enforced in the whole of Nagaland, Assam and Manipur. It is also imposed in part of Arunachal Pradesh.
  • The state of Tripura withdrew from the AFSPA in the year 2015, eighteen years after its imposition.
  • The act was promulgated in Punjab in the year 1983 and removed by the state government itself in 1997.
  • AFSPA has also been imposed in the state of Jammu and Kashmir since 1990.

Learn which Indian states are under AFSPA here.

Features of AFSPA Act

Check the features of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act under sections 3, 4, 5, and 6 of the act here.

Section 3 of the AFSPA:

  • The Governor of a state or an administrator of a union territory has the power to impose the act if it is felt that either the whole or the part of the country is in such a disturbed condition.
  • Only a notification in the central gazette is necessary to declare such an area to be under disturbance and thereby impose the AFSPA act.
  • This section cannot be taken as conferring power without any limit. There must be a periodic review of the declaration before the expiry of the six months from when it was first imposed.

Section 4 of the Act:

  • The AFSPA empowers armed forces to prohibit the gathering of five or more persons in an area.
  • They can open fire after giving a due warning if they feel that any person or people are in contravention of the law.
  • The forces have the power to stop and search any vehicle if they have a reasonable suspicion that the vessel/vehicle might be carrying weapons of any kind.
  • If reasonable doubt exists, the army can arrest the person (s) without a warrant in the case a cognizable offence has been committed.
  • By the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the armed forces are permitted to enter and search the premises without a warrant.

Section 5 of the AFSPA:

Any person arrested and taken into custody must, in all circumstances, be handed over to the officer in charge with the least possible delay. This must be accompanied by a report of the cases occasioning the arrest.

Section 6 of the Armed Forces Act:

  • No prosecution, suit, or any other kind of legal proceeding shall be instituted against a person in respect of any act done or purported to have been done in the exercise of the powers conferred under the AFSPA act.
  • Protection of persons acting in good faith, under the provisions of AFSPA, except if otherwise sanctioned by the central government.

Controversies Related to AFSPA

Though government and armed forces give complete support to the AFSPA, there are several controversies around this act which are as follows:

Violations of Human Rights: Many critics state that the extraordinary powers and immunity given to armed or security forces under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 often lead to violations of human rights, including fake encounters.

Exploitation of Absolute Powers: Some powers given to security forces, such as shooting on sight suspects or rebels, violate the fundamental right to life. It puts the soldiers on the ground of the judgment of the worth of different lives, and people are merely subjected to an officer’s decision.

Violation of Fundamental Rights: The power given to armed forces for arbitrary arrest and detention of any person under AFSPA is against the fundamental right assigned in Article 22 of the Indian Constitution.

Immunity against any Penalising Action: The AFSPA act protects the security forces of disturbed areas against any prosecution, suit, and other legal proceedings. However, this immunity should only be introduced only with the former authorisation of the central government.

Supreme Court’s Views on AFSPA

The Supreme Court sustained the imposition of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in a judgment of 1998 when the Naga People’s Movement against the Union of India took place.

Orders by the Supreme Court in 2016

  • In the judgment of 2016, in light of AFSPA, the Supreme Court stated that each death in the disturbed areas, irrespective of whether a person is civilian or insurgent, must be enquired properly under Criminal Investigation Department (CID) at the command of the NHRC.
  • As per the statement, every armed force member who violates the prohibitor orders is not a rival.
  • Though if the person is judged as an enemy, a careful investigation needs to be conducted because every Indian citizen is authorised to all the fundamental rights as written in Article 21 of the constitution.
  • Even in the case of the suspect being found an enemy in the investigation of a case under the AFSPA act, an analysis should be taken into account to find whether the force used was excessive or retaliatory.
  • No army personnel is given any absolute legal immunity when committing a crime.

Jeevan Reddy Committee’s Proposals About AFSPA Act

A five-member committee was appointed in November 2004 by the Central government to review the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Justice B P Jeevan Reddy led the committee to revise the necessities of the AFSPA Act in the northeastern states.

  • This committee recommended that there must be some suitable replacement for the AFSPA and that it must have appropriate provisions.
  • Also, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, must be upgraded with proper provisions.
  • As per the committee, AFSPA needs to be revised to postulate the powers given to the security and paramilitary forces.
  • Also, there should be Grievance cells in each district with employed armed forces.

Current Conflicts with AFSPA

For AFSPA, the recent conflict on this act happened when the Prime Minister highlighted that the endeavours are being made to enhance the law and orders for the absolute removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from the northeast states.

  • The Prime Minister visited Diphu, Assam, to attend a Peace, Unity and Development rally where he put the statement of partial withdrawal of the AFSPA act from Manipur and Nagaland because of the peaceful conditions since the year 2014.
  • The Nagaland Cabinet endorsed that the AFSPA act of 1958 should be revoked from the state in December 2021.
  • This recommendation was made due to the incident in Mon district where armed forces killed 13 civilians in firing.
  • After this firing in the Mon district of Nagaland, Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio’ along with Meghalaya’s Chief Minister Conrad Sangma’ have called to revoke AFSPA from these states.
  • Moreover, the removal of the AFSPA act has been the main demand in the Northeastern states for a very long time.


AFSPA UPSC topic is part of the of Indian Polity syllabus for the Prelims and Mains exam. Also, it becomes important to learn from the Current Affairs point of view as it always remains in the news for some or other reason. Aspirants must read this article thoroughly to know the states under AFSPA, its features, provisions, advantages and disadvantages of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 for sound preparation for the upcoming exam.

Armed Forces Special Powers Act UPSC Questions

Q1: Consider the following statements and choose the correct option.

  1. Only the central government can decide the powers and jurisdiction under the AFSPA
  2. The decision made by the government to declare a state or region to be ‘disturbed’ cannot be contested in court.

Choose the correct option – (A) Only 1, (B) Only 2, (C) Both 1 and 2, (D) None of the above

Answer – (B) Only 2

Q2: Discuss the provisions and significance of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in maintaining law and order in insurgency-affected areas. What are the criticisms against AFSPA, and what measures could be taken to address them?

Q3: The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) has been a subject of controversy and debate. Critically analyze the provisions of AFSPA and its impact on civil-military relations in the insurgency-affected regions of India.

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