New Delhi: Tackling challenges like ethnic violence in Manipur and sporadic terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir while taking landmark steps in overhauling the British-era criminal justice laws and signing peace pacts with insurgent outfits in the Northeast, the year 2023 was a mixed bag for the Ministry of Home Affairs.
A long-delayed peace agreement with the pro-talks faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) at the fag-end of the year has given a firm indication that the Home Minister Amit Shah-led ministry is serious about resolving the problems that have affected the Northeast for decades and claimed many lives.
A major crisis came to the fore on May 3 when ethnic violence erupted in Manipur after a 'Tribal Solidarity March' was organised in the hill districts of the Northeastern state to protest against the majority Meitei community's demand for Scheduled Tribe status.
At least 180 people were killed in violence that continued for months. Shah visited the state for four consecutive days to calm down the warring communities - Meitei and Kuki.
A series of confidence-building measures were taken including the constitution of a judicial inquiry committee, financial aid to the victims and sending additional troops.
Even though fragile peace returned to Manipur after several months, the mistrust between the two communities poses a serious hurdle.
“Normalcy has returned to a great extent in Manipur and the law and order situation is by and large peaceful. Even though the trust deficit between the Meitei and the Kuki communities remains, the government is trying its best to bring them closer,” a senior home ministry official said.
Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur's population and live mostly in the Imphal Valley, while tribals, which include Nagas and Kukis, constitute 40 per cent and reside mainly in the hill districts.
The government, on November 13, also extended by five years the ban imposed on nine Meitei extremist groups and their associate organisations, which mostly operate in Manipur, for their anti-national activities and launching fatal attacks on security forces.
On November 29, a peace pact was signed by the government with the Imphal valley-based oldest terror outfit United National Liberation Front (UNLF), dominated by the majority Meitei community, under which the insurgent faction has agreed to renounce violence.
The Modi government has signed a series of agreements with Northeast-based insurgent groups in the last five years.
These include one with the Tripura-based insurgent group NLFT in 2019, with the groups belonging to the Bru and Bodo communities in 2020, with a group of the Karbi tribals of Assam in 2021 and with an Adivasi group in 2022.
The Assam-Meghalaya border agreement, Assam-Arunachal border agreement and agreement with the Manipur-based insurgent group UNLF were signed in 2023.
On August 11, Home Minister Amit Shah introduced in Parliament - Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita and the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill - aiming to completely overhaul the century-old Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC), Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) and the Indian Evidence Act of 1872.
The bills were subsequently referred to the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs on August 18 for a thorough review.
All the legislations were withdrawn during the just concluded winter session of parliament after the standing committee suggested a number of changes. The home minister reintroduced the bills on December 12. They were passed by both houses of Parliament on December 21 and got the presidential assent on December 25.
The new laws have given a clear definition of terrorism, abolished sedition as a crime and introduced a new section titled "Offences against the State".
The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita lists offences such as acts of secession, armed rebellion, subversive activities, separatist activities or endangering the sovereignty or unity in the new avatar of the sedition law.
According to the laws, anyone purposely or knowingly, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or by electronic communication or by use of financial means, or otherwise, excites or attempts to excite secession or armed rebellion or subversive activities is liable to be punished.
It also included anyone who, by such actions, encourages feelings of separatist activities or endangers the sovereignty or unity and integrity of India.
The punishment is life imprisonment or a jail term that may extend to seven years and the convict shall also be liable to fine.
Under IPC Section 124A, which deals with sedition, a convict may be punished with life imprisonment or a three-year jail term.
Under the new laws, 'Rajdroh' has got a new term 'Deshdroh', thus doing away with the reference to the British crown.
The magistrate's power to impose fines has been increased as well as the scope of declaring a proclaimed offender.
Shah had said the three new laws were drafted after comprehensive consultations and that he had gone through "every comma and full stop" of the draft legislation before bringing them to the House for approval.
Sporadic violence continued in Jammu and Kashmir since the beginning of 2023.
On December 21, five soldiers were killed and two injured when heavily armed terrorists ambushed two Army vehicles in Jammu and Kashmir's Poonch district. A day later bodies of three civilians were found in the Poonch district, not far from the spot of the day before the incident, sparking outrage.
The civilians were allegedly picked up by the Army after the ambush.
This year, Rajouri, Poonch and Reasi districts in Jammu and Kashmir witnessed a series of encounters that left 54 persons, including 19 security personnel and 28 terrorists, dead so far, officials said.
They ascribed the uptick in violence to "desperate attempts from across the border" to revive terrorism in the region.
“In 2023, there were few terror attacks in the Kashmir valley. Cross-border infiltration is also low. Stone pelting is a thing of the past now.
"All these major incidents have taken place only in Rajouri, Poonch and Reasi districts of Jammu and Kashmir. Security forces are working to deal with these new challenges,” another official said.
While 31 persons, including 10 terrorists and 14 security personnel, were killed in Rajouri, 15 terrorists and five security personnel were killed in Poonch district. Three terrorists were killed in Reasi district.
Most of the terrorists were killed while attempting to sneak into this side of the border, the officials said.
In May, five Army personnel were killed and a major-rank officer was injured in Chamrer forest during an anti-terrorist operation. A foreign terrorist was also killed in the operation.
Once considered to be a key threat to internal security, Left Wing Extremism (LWE) or the Naxal problem has been brought under control to a large extent.
According to Home Ministry data, in the last 10 years, the incidents of Naxal violence have come down by 52 per cent, deaths in these incidents declined by 70 per cent and the number of affected districts has come down from 96 to 45 and LWE hit police stations from 495 to 176.
As many as 199 new security forces camps have also been established in the LWE-affected areas since 2019.
On December 1, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said that India was "on the verge of" eliminating Naxalism and the Modi government is "determined" to win this battle.
“The last strike against LWE by forces like the BSF, CRPF and ITBP is in the process. We are determined to end Naxalism in the country. I am sure we will win this battle," he said.
Shah also said: “In the last 10 years, the Modi government has been able to win the battle in the hotspots of Jammu and Kashmir, LWE and the insurgency in the Northeast and the security forces have been able to establish their domination in Jammu and Kashmir”.
On December 29, a tripartite peace accord was signed between the pro-talks faction of the ULFA, the central and the Assam governments, aiming to bring lasting peace in the Northeastern state.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and over a dozen top leaders of the pro-talks faction of the ULFA, headed by Arabinda Rajkhowa, were present at the signing of the peace agreement here.
The accord will take care of a host of long-standing political, economic and social issues concerning Assam, besides providing cultural safeguards and land rights to the indigenous people, officials said.
The hardline faction of the ULFA, led by Paresh Baruah, was not part of the agreement as he has been consistently rejecting the olive branch offered by the government.
Ever since the Modi government came to power in 2014, the NGOs have been under close scrutiny by the Home Ministry.
According to data disclosed in parliament early this month, Rs 55741.51 crore foreign contributions were received by the FCRA-registered 13,520 associations or NGOs in the last three financial years i.e. 2019-2020 to 2021-2022.