Amending the Public Safety Act
While the attention of the media has been focused on the selective revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from certain areas of Jammu and Kashmir (this can be done by the state government by denotifying certain areas under the Disturbed Areas Act), the state government has gone ahead and announced amendment to another much-reviled law — the Public Safety Act (PSA).
The state Cabinet which met under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah here okayed promulgation of the ordinance titled “The Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (Amendment) Ordinance 2011” thus approving among other recommendations that a minor (under 18 years of age) would no longer be detained under PSA. Besides, the detention period under PSA shall be reduced from the existing one year to three months in case of public disorder and from otherwise three years to six months in a case involving security of the State. However, in both situations there is provision for revision and the detention period can be extended to 1 year and 2 years respectively.
The ordinance was necessitated since state legislature is not in session, it would be now send to Governor for his consent and promulgation. The ordinance provides that a detainee under PSA would be communicated in his/her own language about grounds of detention and all the formalities for slapping PSA on an accused shall be completed within six weeks instead of eight weeks as was given under the existing provisions of the Act. Besides, Chairman of Public Safety Advisory Board can be appointed for two terms only.[GK]
There will always be question marks about the impact of reducing the detention period under the PSA because the state government has been known to invoke the PSA against suspects immediately after they are released, whether on completion of the detention period or by the orders of the court. For instance, state police recently slapped PSA on Dukhtaran-e-Millat’s notorious chief, Asiya Andrabi for the seventh time since 2008. The court quashed her detention orders under PSA thrice and issued release orders in her favour but she has always been rearrested immediately.
But the real plus here is the increase in the age limit of detainees to 18 years. The state authorities have long been pilloried for treating boys above the age of 16 as adults and detaining them without trial under the PSA (and ordinary criminal law), holding them in regular prisons along with the adult prisoners. This step must be welcomed by all parties, irrespective of their political positions.
The amendment to the PSA is a good political move by the state government. It is both a reward to the Kashmiris for the peaceful summer for 2011 and an incentive to replicate this normalcy in the following years.
But the question remains. How do we assess this normalcy? What are the indicators of this return to normalcy? The first and foremost is the lack of violence, both due to terror strikes and by street protests in the Valley this year. Second, end of Hizbul Mujahideen as a terror group. Third, elimination of the top Lashkar-e-Taiba leadership in Kashmir. Fourth, the estimated number of active militants in the Valley, which are barely a fraction of the thousands a few years ago. Sixth, nearly 11 lakh tourists visited Kashmir this year. Seventh, Germany revised its travel advisory for Kashmir and other countries may follow suit. Eighth, overwhelming participation by the locals in Panchayat elections.
We can add another indicator to this list now. It is the must-read story in Outlook magazine of ex-militants, who had exfiltrated to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, are hoodwinking the ISI to return to their homes in Jammu and Kashmir. This year has seen at least 16 ex-militants arrive on the Indian side. According to Jammu and Kashmir police, there are some 3,000 Indian Kashmiris eager to return from PoK. This proves that not only is indigenous separatist militancy virtually dead in Kashmir, the hardcore ex-militants are now seeking their future in a peaceful and normal Jammu and Kashmir.
Finally, all these indicators are a testimony to the tremendous effort put in by the security forces to bring the situation to this stage. Only an ungrateful nation would choose to forget their sacrifices and even worse, demonise them, as the counterinsurgency in Kashmir moves towards a political endgame. As we keep moving forward, let us not leave anyone behind.