Daily Current affairs
The Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA), which received the assent of the J&K Governor on April 8, 1978, is often referred to as a “draconian” law.
The Act was introduced by the government of Sheikh Abdullah as a tough law to prevent the smuggling of timber and keep the smugglers “out of circulation”. The law allowed the government to detain any person above the age of 16 without trial for a period of two years.
However, 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.
In the aftermath of the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in July 2016, hundreds of youths in the Valley were detained under PSA, with extendable detention periods. In August 2018, the Act was amended to allow individuals to be detained under the PSA outside the state as well.
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. The detaining authority need not disclose any facts about the detention “which it considers to be against the public interest to disclose”.
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”.
However, global human rights organisations such as Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and Amnesty International have noted in their reports that responses by various government authorities to applications filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 suggest that no Rules have so far been framed to lay down procedures for the implementation of the provisions of the PSA.
An Amnesty report published earlier this year, which analysed over 200 case studies of PSA detainees between 2012 and 2018, said former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had informed the J&K Assembly in January 2017 that between 2007 and 2016, over 2,400 PSA detention orders were passed, of which about 58% were quashed by the courts. Also, Mehbooba told the Assembly in January 2018 that 525 people had been detained under the PSA in 2016, and 201 in 2017.
J&K parties have often blamed each other for the rampant misuse of the PSA. A promise by former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah this year on revoking the PSA if voted to power drew scorn from both Mehbooba’s PDP and Sajad Lone’s People’s Conference.