Public Safety Act (PSA)

Why Public Safety Act in the news?

Recently, the former Jammu & Kashmir chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, National Conference general secretary and former minister Ali Mohammed Sagar, senior PDP leader Sartaj Madani were detained under the stringent PSA by the administration. Interesting fact to know that, the Act was first promulgated in 1978 during the chief ministerial tenure of Sheikh Abdullah, father of Farooq Abdullah. This act is referred as a ‘draconian Act’ by the many political leaders and parties.

What is Public Safety Act (PSA)?

The Public Safety Act (PSA) was introduced in 1978 by the Sheikh Abdullah to prevent timber smuggling and keep the smugglers in prison. It is basically a preventive detention law that allows the State government to detain a person up to two years without a trial. It is similar to the National Security Act, but this was enacted two years before the NSA came into being.

Features of Public Safety Act

  • It is preventive detention law which means a person is taken into custody to prevent him or her from acting in any manner that is prejudicial to the security of the state or the maintenance of public order.
  • A person can be detained up to 2 years without a trial. [Note: The 44th Amendment Act of 1978 has reduced the period of detention without obtaining the opinion of an advisory board from three to two months. However, this provision has not yet been brought into force, hence, the original period of three months still continues.]
  • The detention order is passed either by Divisional Commissioner or the District Magistrate.
  • The detention can be challenge only through a habeas corpus petition filed by relatives of the detained person.

Constitutional Provisions over Preventive Detention

Before moving on to the constitutional provision, firstly understand—What isPreventive Detention’? The preventive detention means the detainment (confinement) of a person in order to keep them from committing future crimes and/or from escaping future prosecution.It is different from ‘being arrested’. ‘Arrest’ is done when a person is charged with a crime but the same is not the case for preventive detention.

  • Article 22(1) of the Constitution states that no person who is arrested shall be denied the right to consult, and to be defended by, a legal practitioner of his choice. However, under Preventive Detention Laws like the PSA, the detained person does not have the right to move a bail application before a criminal court, and cannot engage any lawyer to represent him or her before the detaining authority.
  • When a person is arrested he/she has to be produced before a magistrate within the next 24 hours. However, in the case of ‘preventive detention’, a person can be detained for three months.
  • Article 22(2) states that every person arrested and detained shall be produced before the nearest magistrate within a period of 24 hours (excluding the time necessary for the journey from the place of arrest to the court) and no such person shall be detained beyond this period without the authority of a magistrate.
  • Article 22(3) (b) allows for preventive detention and restriction on personal liberty for reasons of state security and public order.
  • Article 22(4) states that no law providing for preventive detention shall authorise the detention of a person for a longer period than three months unless: An Advisory Board reports sufficient cause for extended detention. Such a person is detained in accordance with the provisions of any law made by the Parliament.

Why Public Safety Act is called as a ‘Draconian’ law?

  • In democratic world, there is no place for preventive detention but in India, it has made preventive detention as an integral part of the Constitution.
  • The governments sometimes use such laws in an extra-judicial power. Also, there remains a fear of arbitrary detentions.
  • However, the Supreme Court has held that in order to prevent misuse of this potentially dangerous power, the law of preventive detention has to be strictly construed and meticulous compliance with the procedural safeguards, is mandatory and vital.

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