There is a long list of fundamental rights in the Indian constitution. These include the right to life, right to freedom of speech and expression, right to equality and the right against exploitation. Such rights ensure the dignity of life and freedom from fear and intimidation in a democracy. Unfortunately, these rights are violated with impunity by the state forces and by non-state actors in our troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir. The state forces enjoy impunity under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and Disturbed Areas Act.
Another act which affects the basic rights of people is the Public Safety Act. These acts impede the normal course of law resulting in lack of accountability and disrespect for human rights. The PSA was introduced in 1978 primarily to deal with timber smugglers. It is the most commonly used law for the purpose of administrative detention.
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". Under the act a person could be detained for up to two years without any trial. 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. PSA does not provide for a judicial review of detention. Amnesty International has reported that 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.
Justice J.S. Verma committee recommended amendment to AFSPA. The operation of Acts like PSA, DAA & AFSPA clearly violate fundamental rights enshrined in the Indian constitution. Such acts go against the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
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. For the protection of juveniles, our government, in 2012, amended the Act to prohibit the detention of people less than 18 years of age. However, during the 2016 unrest, there were multiple cases of children under 18 years being detained under PSA. And the trend continues till date.
International human rights organisations have called for revocation of AFSPA and PSA. While for the revocation of the former we need consent of the central government but the latter can be done away with by an act of the state legislature.
On 31st January 2019 Omar Abdullah, while addressing a workers convention in Pulwama, promised to revoke PSA if voted to power. He said, "The day NC forms government on its own, within days I will repeal PSC". There was, as expected, a sharp reaction from the BJP's ally PDP. Hardly do they realise that politics is a dynamic process. We committed mistakes but our future can't be held hostage to the past. We were in government prior to 2014 but our attempts at removing AFSPA from some areas were frustrated by the Congress, our alliance partner. Coalition governments work under pulls and pressures. But the promises our leadership made like 33 per cent reservation for women in state assembly, passing of autonomy resolution, devolution of power to sub-regions, transfer of power projects to the state and removal of PSA from the statute book will be fulfilled with all sincerity.
Dr. Bashir Ahmad Veeri is a former member of the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Council from National Conference. Views are personal