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Public Safety Act

Topics covered: Security challenges and their management in border areas; linkages of organized crime with terrorism.

Public Safety Act

What to study?

For prelims: Key features of the act.

For mains: Issues related, why it is called a draconian law, need for reforms.

Context: The Jammu and Kashmir administration has slapped the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA) against former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah besides two political stalwarts from the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party.

What happens after PSA is used?

Within four weeks of passing the detention order, the government has to refer the case to an Advisory Board. This Advisory Board will have to give its recommendations within eight weeks of the order. If the Board thinks that there is cause for preventive detention, the government can hold the person up to two years.

The person detained has limited rights. Usually when a person is arrested, they have the right to legal representation and can challenge the arrest. But, when a person is arrested under the PSA, they do not have these rights before the Advisory Board unless sufficient grounds can be established that the detention is illegal. There have been cases where the High Court has interfered and quashed the detention.

According to Section 13(2), the detaining authority need not even inform the detained individual as to the reason for the action, if it decides that it goes against public interest.

What is the J&K PSA?

The Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA) received the assent of the J&K Governor on April 8, 1978.

The Act was introduced as a tough law to prevent the smuggling of timber and keep the smugglers “out of circulation”.

The law allows the government to detain any person above the age of 16 without trial for a period of two years.

The PSA allows for administrative detention for up to two years “in the case of persons acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of the State”, and for administrative detention up to one year where “any person is acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order”.

Detention orders under PSA can be issued by Divisional Commissioners or District Magistrates.

Section 22 of the Act provides protection for any action taken “in good faith” under the Act: “No suit, prosecution or any other legal proceeding shall lie against any person for anything done or intended to be done in good faith in pursuance of the provisions of this Act.”

Under Section 23 of the Act, the government is empowered to “make such Rules consistent with the provisions of this Act, as may be necessary for carrying out the objects of this Act”.

Why is it often referred to as a “draconian” law?

  1. Right from the beginning, the law was misused widely, and was repeatedly employed against political opponents by consecutive governments until 1990. After the emergence of militancy, the J&K government frequently invoked the PSA to crack down on separatists.
  2. In August 2018, the Act was amended to allow individuals to be detained under the PSA outside the state as well.
  3. The detaining authority need not disclose any facts about the detention “which it considers to be against the public interest to disclose”.
  4. The terms under which a person is detained under PSA are vague and include a broad range of activities like “acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of the State” or for “acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order”.
  5. The vagueness provided in the act gives unbridled powers to the authorities. The detainees, therefore, are effectively debarred from contesting the legality of their detention.
  6. PSA does not provide for a judicial review of detention. To checkmate the J&K High Court orders for release of persons detained under the act the state authorities issue successive detention orders. This ensures prolonged detention of people. 
  7. PSC has been used against human rights activists, journalists, separatists and others who are considered as a threat to the law & order. Right to dissent is stifled by these Acts.

Sources: The Hindu.