For all of last week, the J&K Assembly witnessed noisy scenes over a detention made under the state’s much-criticised Public Safety Act.
While the government insists the age of the detainee, who was picked up on September 30, 2016, for protests over the Burhan Wani killing, is 20-25 years, MLA Engineer Rashid has led protests inside the House and showed school documents saying he is 14. A medical panel set up by the government has put his age at 19 to 21. A look at the Act and the number of people detained under it.
What is the Act?
It allows the government to detain a person without trial for a period of three to six months. The Act was first promulgated in 1978 by the Sheikh Abdullah government as an administrative detention aimed at keeping timber smugglers “out of circulation”. Originally, it allowed the government to detain any person above the age of 16 without trial for a period of two years. Over the past three-and-a-half decades, the government has frequently used the Act against political opponents.
Who passes orders under the Act, and on what basis?
The detention order under the PSA is issued by the district magistrate (deputy commissioner) concerned, after police recommendation. Police prepare a case file or ‘dossier’ against the accused and submit it to the deputy commissioner, detailing why a person needs to be detained under the Act. It is up to the deputy commissioner to accept or reject the recommendations, and accordingly, pass an order for detention under the PSA or to return the file. In most cases, district magistrates pass detention orders without questioning the police dossier.
Why are courts often not a solution?
Though a person detained under the PSA can approach the high court to get relief, usually the government resorts to what has come to be called “revolving door detention”. So, the moment the high court has ordered him released, the government slaps the PSA against him again in another case, and the cycle continues. Hurriyat leader Masarat Alam has been booked under the PSA for 17 consecutive times.
Rights group Amnesty International has called the PSA a “lawless law”, saying it is being used by the State “to keep people the government can’t or wouldn’t convict through proper legal channels, locked up and out of circulation”.
What amendments were made to the law in 2011?
Following criticism from human rights groups, the law was amended. The changes include raising the minimum age of a person who could be detained under the PSA from 16 to 18 years, and reducing the maximum detention period from one year to three months in case of public disorder, and from two years to six months in cases where the security of the State is involved. However, in both the situations, there is a provision for revision and the detention period can be extended to one year and two years respectively.
How many people were detained under the PSA in the 2016 protests?
After the protests triggered by the killing of Hizbul Mujaihideen militant commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the state government slapped the PSA against more than 550 persons, the highest number in a year. The government was accused of slapping them irrespective of age, including in two cases, against 80-year-olds. While school certificates show many of the arrested children as minors, police maintain they are adults. In at least two cases, the J&K High Court declared the arrested boys as minors and ordered their release.