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1000 plus preventive detentions in Kashmir despite non-existent rules, procedures for "draconian" Public Safety Act

By Our Representative
The reply to a Right to Information (RTI) application filed by the Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) RTI Movement has revealed that as many as 1,003 persons were detained across the state for varying periods under the J&K Public Safety Act (PSA), 1978, from March 2016 to August 2017, a period of incessant turmoil across the state.
Under PSA, a person may be locked away for a period of up to two years without the right to be produced before a judicial magistrate or hire a lawyer to defend oneself. Section 8 of the law allows a district magistrate (DM) to detain any person in order to prevent him or her from acting in a manner that may be “prejudicial to the security of the state” or for the “maintenance of public order”.
Ironically, despite such large number of “preventive” detentions, the law, scrutinized by the Amnesty International in a detailed study in 2011 for “serious” human rights violations, the J&K government home department admitted in its RTI reply that it has not made any rules or standard operating procedures (SOPs) for its operations during the four decades of its existence.
The result, says senior RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak in an email alert to Counterview, “District magistrates and divisional commissioners have been issuing hundreds and sometimes even thousands of detention orders every year, under the controversial law” without any standard guide, and on the basis of “reports and dossiers prepared by the J&K Police.”
The J&K RTI Movement filed the RTI application to the state home department, as also to districts magistrates across the state, following a workshop taken by Nayak, who is with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), to sensitize activists and lawyers on provisions of the law.
The RTI pleas, says Nayak, were filed “in order to document evidence based on official records about the manner of the law’s implementation.”
Apart from seeking photocopies of the rules and SOPs and total number of persons detained under the law, the RTI pleas also sought names, age, parentage, postal address and grounds for detention and exact place of lodgement of each detenue, with the request to inspect police reports and dossiers related to such detenues.
While most details of sought under RTI were not provided, the J&K Home Department said no rules and SOPs existed. Yet, interestingly, the RTI reply from Anantnag authorities said that the rule book of PSA consists of 711 pages and “is in binding shape”, hence it is “not possible to photostat the book”, and that the “book is available at government press, Srinagar." Anantnag was the worst affected district during the turmoil.
The Srinagar district authorities attached a copy of the complete text of the PSA in the reply and advised the RTI applicants to approach the proper forum, namely Home Department for the rules and the SOPs, while the DM, Kulgam, attached a copy of Section 8 of the PSA indicating that these were all the rules and SOPs that were being followed while issuing detention orders in the district.
The Budgam district authorities went so far as to question the RTI plea itself, saying the request for seeking SOP “is factually as well as legally misconceived". In fact, they treated “the act of even asking questions about the existence of SOPs under PSA as an affront to their power and authority”, comments Nayak.

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