UP’s misuse of the NSA is a violation of citizens’ rights
Against the backdrop of such draconian provisions, weak, non-substantiable cases amount to deliberate violation of citizens’ rights and a betrayal of the contract between the state and its subjects.
The Allahabad High Court quashing, between January 2018 and December 2020, 94 out of 120 National Security Act (NSA) detention orders of the Uttar Pradesh administration—as per The Indian Express (IE)—exposes the untrammeled abuse of power by the state. To be sure, there is a higher appellate level, and the state government will likely exercise that option. However, as the IE report shows, the fact that the HC pointed out copycat FIRs (key details of cases across locations being the same), denial of due process to the detainees, repeated attempts to block bail, etc, would likely put the state administration’s case on shaky grounds. The stated purpose of the Act is to prevent individuals from acting in a manner “prejudicial to certain state objectives”, including national security, public order and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the community. It allows the government to detain a person up to 12 months without charges, trial, or any such rights that are available in the normal course. Indeed, a detainee may not even be informed of why she has been detained under the Act for 10 days. Against the backdrop of such draconian provisions, weak, non-substantiable cases amount to deliberate violation of citizens’ rights and a betrayal of the contract between the state and its subjects.
The HC quashed NSA orders in 30 of 41 cow-slaughter cases, all 20 of 20 communal incident cases, and 20 of 25 political cases. Based on the detention orders in the cow-slaughter cases, IE reports that district magistrates “virtually echo each other” over why NSA is being invoked. Thirteen detention orders came on the basis of FIRs filed by the police that claimed the slaughter took place in an “open agricultural field” or a “forest”; in nine, the detention order cited FIRs that said it took place within the four walls of a residential building. Seven NSA detention orders say an “atmosphere of fear and terror has engulfed the whole vicinity”. Six talk of attack on police personnel after the incident, following which “people started running helter-skelter and the situation has become tense”. The HC held, in the case of as many as 11 detention orders, that there seemed to be “non-application of mind” while passing these, and, for 13, it noted that the detainee was denied the opportunity to represent himself effectively while challenging the NSA.The government must clearly be blamed for this, but even the advisory body, comprising sitting or former members of the judiciary, that is tasked with overseeing decisions to detain people for prolonged periods of time, is not effectively scrutinising cases. The government—the states and the Centre—must remember, the misuse of the NSA or any other such law giving extraordinary powers to it, like the Public Security Act or the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, will make these well-intended laws mere tools to disempower citizens.