With the invocation of the National Security Act (NSA) against persons arrested for slaughter and illegal transport of cows in Madhya Pradesh in two recent cases coming under criticism, including from a state Congress MLA, the Congress government in the state has decided to exercise caution from now on while invoking the stringent legislation.
Every three months, the government issues a notification authorising district magistrates to exercise powers conferred under Section 3 (3) of the NSA to detain persons if they threaten communal harmony or commit acts prejudicial to the maintenance of public order and the security of the state. A top bureaucrat told The Sunday Express that now the state Home Ministry will review such decisions and decide if there has been an error of judgment by district authorities in issuing such detention orders. Every collector has to also send a report to the Home Ministry about such detentions.
Despite repeated attempts, Law Minister P C Sharma and DGP V K Singh did not return calls.
Currently, collectors invoke the NSA based on recommendations of superintendents of police. But while the provision is regularly invoked against habitual criminals, its use for offences under the state’s prohibition of cow slaughter act is not that common. As per the last notification on the NSA issued by the state government, applicable from January 1 to March 31, it can be invoked where “there are reports with the state government that certain elements are active and are likely to be active to threaten the communal harmony and commit act prejudicial to the maintenance of public order and the security of the state”.
No decision has, however, been taken to revoke the NSA in the present cases. Sources said the Congress government is worried about the possible fallout if it decides to revoke the NSA or acts against district officials for using it, for fear of being accused of appeasement.
On Friday, Congress MLA Arif Masood sent a letter to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath demanding the setting up of an SIT and transfer of the Khandwa district collector for using the NSA. While calling cow slaughter “shameful”, the MLA from Bhopal Central, Masood termed the NSA move “one-sided”, adding that the relatives of the three accused had met him and alleged that the collector had not heard their side.
Masood told PTI that minority community leaders from different parts of the country have spoken to Congress chief Rahul Gandhi in this regard.
But, at a press conference in Delhi Saturday, the Congress said it will “not unwarrantedly interfere” in the functioning of the state government in any manner, adding that the matter is in the knowledge of the Chief Minister and “he with his own experience and wisdom will take a call on it”.
While former Union minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram said on Friday that the Congress leadership has conveyed to the Madhya Pradesh government that the use of the NSA was wrong, and other party leaders such as Digvijaya Singh and Salman Khurshid criticised it, Congress communication department in-charge Randeep Surjewala said, “It is a domain of the Chief Minister. He is experienced and seasoned enough to see if any officer of the police has made an over-reach at the instance of somebody who is previously embedded on behalf of the BJP regime… He is also competent enough to see whether the particular offence provides what kind of punishment under the law… What particular law needs to be applied for a particular offence is strictly the domain of the Chief Minister and the Director General of Police.”
Surjewala said, “We will not unwarrantedly interfere in the functioning of the state government in any manner. That is not the style of functioning of the Congress party or Congress president Rahul Gandhi. We will only ensure that no one is unjustifiably persecuted under a law which may not be applicable. We will also ensure that anybody who is guilty is not let-off in any manner, whatsoever, and is given the strictest punishment in accordance with the law.”
Surjewala added that Kamal Nath has already categorically said that the law will take its own course and that nobody who is innocent will be persecuted in any manner and nobody who is guilty will be spared. “The Congress party does not decide these issues based on the prism of caste or religion. We decide law and order issues strictly on the prism of law and order,” he said.
While the NSA was invoked against three persons in Khandwa on charges of cow slaughter, the Agar Malwa district had soon after used it against two persons for allegedly illegally transporting cows.
Agar Malwa Collector Ajay Gupta told The Sunday Express he had sent a routine report to the Home Ministry and another report explaining the circumstances leading to the use of the NSA. He said two incidents of illegal transport of cows within a span of a month had led to communal tension in the sensitive region. He said in the first case, the vehicle was burnt and the driver and the cleaner faced a threat to their lives.