The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958
This 844-word Act enables members of the armed forces to exercise ‘certain special powers’ in ‘disturbed areas’. It was passed by Parliament on September 11, 1958. Subsequent amendments have added that the Act shall be applicable in such areas in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura.
How is a ‘disturbed area’ identified?
If the Act extends to any state or union territory, the governor of that state, the administrator of that union territory or the central government, may declare the whole or a part of the state or union territory to be a ‘disturbed area’. Such a declaration shall be made through a notification in The Gazette of India.
The governor, administrator or central government may only declare the whole or part of a state or union territory as a disturbed area if they consider the area to be in “…such a dangerous condition that the use of armed forces in aid of the civil power is necessary.”
Which armed forces does the Act cover?
The Act covers military forces and air forces operating as land forces, and any other armed forces of the Union.
What ‘special powers’ does this Act give to members of the armed forces?
The Act allows members of the armed forces (commissioned and non-commissioned officers, warrant officers and others of equal rank), stationed in disturbed areas, the power to fire upon or otherwise use force – even if it results in death – against any person acting in contravention of any law or order in force, which prohibits the assembly of five or more persons, and carrying weapons or objects that may be used as weapons, firearms, ammunition or explosive substances. The officer may exercise this power if they consider it necessary for maintaining public order, after giving “… such due warning as he may consider necessary.”
Persons acting under this law may – if they consider it necessary – destroy any arms dump, prepared or fortified position, or shelter from which armed attacks are made or are likely to be made, or any structure used as a training camp for armed volunteers, or a hideout by armed gangs and absconders wanted for any offence.
They may arrest any person without a warrant who has committed a cognizable offence, or against whom a reasonable suspicion exists that they have committed or are about to commit such an offence. Officers may use “such force as may be necessary” for the arrest.
They may, without a warrant, enter and search any premises to make an arrest under this Act, to look for any person believed to be wrongly restrained or confined, or to recover any property ‘reasonably suspected’ to be stolen, or any arms, ammunition or explosive substance which is believed to be unlawfully kept there. Members of the armed forces may use such force as may be necessary for this action.
What are the rights of persons arrested under this Act?
Any person arrested and taken into custody shall be handed over to the officer in charge of the nearest police station with the least possible delay, along with a report of the circumstances occasioning the arrest.
What protection does the Act confer upon persons acting under its purview?
No prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted against any person – except with the previous sanction of the central government – if the proceeding has to do with anything done, or purported to be done, in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act.
Focus and Factoids by Samreen Wani.
Ministry of Law and Justice
Government of India, New Delhi
11 Sep, 1958