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Omar Abdullah’s promise of ‘prashchit’

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah recently promised to repeal the Public Safety Act (PSA) if given a majority in the upcoming assembly elections. No other law, besides Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), has been misused by the people in power than the Public Safety Act. A lawless law termed by the Amnesty International, PSA is a readily available weapon for the government to whip and whisk people who differ with it. Only recently scores of political and religious leaders and activists have been jailed by the authorities under this draconian law in the wake of ban on Jamaat-e-Islami and JKLF. Hundreds others arrested on different occasions since 2016 street rebellion (after Burhan Wani’s death) under the provisions of this law are languishing in jails and torture centres. PSA provides for arresting and jailing a person without trial for two years on mere suspicion that he/she may disrupt law and order in the state or may act in a manner prejudicial to the security of the state. The Act bypasses all the institutional procedures and human rights safeguards of ordinary criminal justice system in order to secure a long detention term. The order of the detention under the PSA cannot be held to be inoperative or invalid on the grounds of technical issues, vagueness, nonexistence of one or more grounds or that the grounds are irrelevant, or the officer had no territorial jurisdiction to make such detention (section-10A of the Act). The government has powers to restrict or stop circulation of any documents in and out of the state and may seize those documents to prevent entry. The Act also empowers the government to declare any area as prohibited or protected and can restrict entry thereto. Interestingly, PSA has impunity provision as well. Section 22 of the Act states that no suit, prosecution or any legal proceedings shall lie against any person for anything done or intended to be done in good faith in pursuance of this Act.

This is almost similar to the impunity armed forces enjoy for their actions under AFSPA. More than 35,000 people have been arrested and jailed by different governments on different occasions in Jammu and Kashmir under this law since its promulgation in 1978. The reprehensible law is a legacy of former chief minister and Omar Abdullah’s grandfather late Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah, whom people of Kashmir used to address as “Sher-e-Kashmir and Asia Ka Buland Sitaraa”. When this law was passed by the state legislature in 1978, its architect and sponsor the great Abdullah said that the law was meant to curb timber smuggling and to deal with smugglers. But the first person who was arrested under this law was an officer bearer of Kashmir Motor Drivers association Ghulam Nabi for his fault of supporting Janata Party against National Conference in 1977 assembly elections. Since then it has been used against political opponents without any measure or full-stop. True to his father’s son, Farooq Abdullah too did make a generous use of the law against political rivals. As if to carry on the family legacy, Omar Abdullah broke all the records by arresting even minors under this law. In 2010 Faizan Ahmad (14) of Anantnag, Asif shakhsaz (15), Sajjad Mir (16), Naeem Ahmad Dar (14)—all from Srinagar—and Adil Khan (14) of Sopore to name a few, included among scores of minor boys who were jailed under PSA by Omar Abdullah government. PDP, outside government, had always opposed the law. Late Mufti Mohammad Saeed, on many occasions, termed it as draconian law and sought its abrogation. In 2010, PDP MLA Basharat Bukhari (now in the NC) brought an amendment bill in the state assembly to stop the misuse of the law, which was instantly rejected by the NC-dominated House. One had expected that after its rise to power, PDP would do away with the law or, at least, amend it to sop its misuse. But it is unfortunate that the PDP has not proved different. It even proved worse. Most of the persons presently facing the brunt of the law are the common people who hit the streets in protest against the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. PDP had emerged as an alternative and hope to NC following the latter’s reckless way of dealing with common people. But the matter of the fact is that it proved no more than a mirage. Against this backdrop Omar Abdullah’s promise to undo the law is impalpable. However, if he really meant to keep his word, he would be doing a favour to his grandfather to correcting his wrong-doings than to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.