Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister and National Conference (NC) vice-president Omar Abdullah said Thursday that if elected to power with a majority, his government would revoke the J&K Public Safety Act.
The J&K Public Safety Act (PSA), first promulgated in 1978, allows the government to detain a person without trial for a period of three to six months. Passed by the Sheikh Abdullah government, it originally aimed at keeping timber smugglers “out of circulation” and 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. In August 2018, the Act was amended to allow prisoners to be detained outside the state as well.
In the aftermath of the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, hundreds of youngsters in the Valley have been booked under PSA, with extendable detention periods.
Addressing a party convention at Pulwama, Omar said, “Repealing the Act will go a long way in eradicating insecurity and disenchantment amongst people particularly youth.”
Seeking a “strong mandate” in the next Assembly elections, Omar said, “My government in 2011 had mellowed down the PSA by bringing some amendments to it. However, this time I assure you all if NC comes to power on its own with a strong mandate, we will take no time to revoke the act completely.” He added that while he had pursued the revocation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) throughout his stint as chief minister, “I have not given up on the issue, and once in power will revive the effort of pursuing the matter with forthcoming central government”.
Blaming the Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP-BJP coalition government in the state for their alleged misrule, Omar stated, “During our stint in government from 2009-2014, we worked towards reconciliation and lessening the foot-print of security forces. However, what good was achieved during the NC-led government was put into an abyss by the former BJP-PDP led government.”
In response to Omar’s promise over repealing the PSA, the PDP and the People’s Conference criticised both the NC and the Abdullah family.
The official Twitter account of PDP posted, “A party that convinced the idea and acts like PSA, POTA, AFSPA to muzzle the dissent voices, rigged elections in 1987, booked elected people in jails and declared them militants are now asking for majority to revoke PSA. Illogical!”
Meanwhile, People’s Conference chief Sajad Lone tweeted, “Omar Abdullah says will repeal PSA if NC elected with majority. This Act was introduced by Sheikh sahib in 1975. Initially meant for timber smugglers. Was misused. From 1975 to 1989 NC was in power. NC introduced it misused it and now wants votes to repeal it.”
Responding to the criticism, Omar tweeted, “To those of you Kashmiri leaders who are questioning @JKNC_ ‘s PSA related commitment I have simply this to say – you should have used your friendly ties with BJP to do it earlier. Now people have a choice vote for you to keep PSA or vote @JKNC_ to remove it.”