Since the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, the Jammu and Kashmir administration has reportedly slapped as many as 230 orders for arresting people across Kashmir under the draconian Public Safety Act, 1978 (PSA).
PSA enables the authorities to detain any individual for a period of two years without trial. While the PSA Advisory Board is supposed to review every PSA order and confirm or reject them within six weeks, so far the board has rejected only three orders of the total 230.
The current PSA Advisory Board is headed by former Jammu and Kashmir High Court Judge Janak Raj Kotwal.
The board has proven toothless as it has a long-standing record of confirming almost all detention orders it receives from the authorities, despite its role to act as a check and balance on the government’s use of the stringent law.
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On September 16, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Dr. Farooq Abdullah was detained under PSA, just hours before the Supreme Court was due to hear Rajya Sabha Member Vaiko’s habeas corpus petition, seeking the government to produce him in court.
The authorities have declared Abdullah’s Gupkar residence in Srinagar as a subsidiary jail while formally imposing PSA on him, who was kept under house arrest till then.
Earlier this year, Governor Satya Pal Malik had even approved an amendment to move detainees to jails outside Jammu and Kashmir.
PSA has reportedly been widely used by the authorities to stifle dissent. Human rights activists and international organisations have been demanding to repeal the law as it has been used to target human rights defenders, journalists, separatists, political leaders, suspected members of armed opposition groups and common people joining protests.
The irony is, PSA was introduced to primarily deal with timber smugglers, but history shows that it is the most commonly used law for administrative detentions.
Civil society and human rights organisations have often argued that the law is vaguely defined which grants the authorities sweeping powers to detain individuals for a broad range of activities.
According to Amnesty International estimates, over 20,000 people have been detained under PSA since it came into force in 1978.
Also read: Centre Detains Farooq Abdullah Under Draconian Public Safety Act
As per an Indian Express report, since the Pulwama attack on February 14 and until August 4, as many as 150 habeas corpus petitions were filed in the Srinagar Bench of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court against PSA orders. Of these, verdicts came in 39 cases and in 80% of them, the court quashed the detention and ordered to release the detainees.
But the tactic of Kashmir authorities, as several reports reveal, has been that successive detention orders under PSA were imposed even in cases where courts have granted relief to detainees.