Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir governor NN Vohra has amended the Public Safety Act (PSA) to allow the government to detain people in jails outside the state, which is seen as a tough measure to regulate the protests in favour of freedom in Kashmir.
The move, which is being termed as a measure that would put prisoners through “harsh conditions”, has drawn censure in the state.
As per the notification issued by Law Secretary Abdul Majid Bhat, the governor has amended the PSA through an Act as per which the provision relating to the keeping of prisoners under Section 10 has been deleted.
The notification reads that, “amendment has been made in section 10 Act VI of 1978 and in Section 10 of Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978, the proviso thereto shall be omitted”.
Section 10 of the PSA reads, “Any person in respect of whom a detention order has been made under Section 8 shall be liable to detained at such place” which the government may decide “provided the detainees who are permanent residents of the state” are not lodged in jails outside the state.
Bhat however said that the matter pertains to the state’s home department that regulates the prisoners and their detention in the state.
The PSA has been seen as an abusive and “dictatorial” act, which before the militancy was largely used for detaining timber-smugglers.
It has however been now used to book stonepelters and to regulate the presence of foreign militants in the state before the orders of their deportation come from Pakistan.
The orders of detention are issued by the deputy commissioners rather than the courts and despite the high court revoking the PSA orders in the case of many prisoners, they are being again booked under the Act through an “administrative order”.
As per the notification of the law department, the governor amended the PSA through Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Amendment Act, 2018.
“In exercise of the powers vested under proclamation No P-1/18 of 2018 dated 20 June, the governor is pleased to enact the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Amendment Act 2018, and it shall come into force at once.”
Deputy Inspector-General of Prisons MS Lone, said that the enforcement of the law will “ensure that some of the prisoners are shifted to jails outside”.
He however said that he was not aware of any amendment to the PSA being made by the governor.
“As of now, the prisoners of Kashmir were at the most being lodged in the jails in Jammu and not outside the state. That could change now.” he said.
Human rights activist, Mohammad Ehsan Untoo, said that he sees the new regulation “as both draconian and dictatorial”.
“Those who are detained under the PSA are convicts in the eyes of the state and there is an Indian Supreme Court ruling that the convicts should be kept near their homes and not far away. This law will put both an emotional and financial toll on the families in the state who will have to incur greater expenses to see their members in prisons outside the state,” he said.
Many in the state see this new law in the state as another iron-fisted measure by the authorities to control the crowds in support of militants at different encounters.
But even as Vohra issued the new law on 13 July, incidents of stone pelting have considerably come down.
More than the regular armed groups, it was the street protesters who engaged the “forces” in Kashmir.
Many officials also presume that this could be a lull before the storm or even believe that there was anger against the PDP-BJP government.
State government officials said that the governor has chosen to enforce his legislative power in a draconian manner as his rule was meant to brief and temporary.
Locals have taken to social networking sites to take a swipe at Vohra, who heads the state in the absence of government after the fall of PDP-BJP alliance in June this year.
Under the PSA and two years after the uprising over the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, hundreds of people were detained under the orders of the deputy commissioners for incidents of stone-pelting as the courts have been setting aside criminal cases against them.
The state has been maintaining that the PSA was being invoked in “rare cases”, where the local criminal laws don’t dissuade the youth from engaging in incidents of stone-pelting against the forces.