ON the surface of it, the preventive legislation to contain the activities of anti-social elements that Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran mooted on January 5, 1982, was an innocuous one. However, over time the law underwent a few mutations (1988, 2004 and 2006) during both DMK and AIADMK governments. In 2014, the then Chief Minister Jayalalithaa gave it a draconian edge by amending it to drop the word “habitual” from its provisions. This gave the government and the police a free hand to expand its use in a large number of situations that were until then outside the ambit of the Act.
The 2014 amendments on pre-charge detention said: “There are instances where a single act has the potential to disrupt public order and therefore it will not be meaningful to wait for habitual commission of offences by a person before resorting to preventive detention.” At that time Frontline carried a detailed analysis of the dangers of its possible abuse at the hands of the powers that be (“Alarming Act”, October 3, 2014).
Once a person is detained under the Goondas Act, his/her family members have 12 days to apply for release, and it is only after seven weeks or 50 days of detention that they can approach the advisory board formed under Section 10 of the Act. After exhausting these options, the aggrieved person can approach the High Court. The habeas corpus petition has been the most favoured option for those held under this Act in the majority of the cases.
Official sources claimed that 1,364 persons had been detained under the Goondas Act in Tamil Nadu in 2011; the number was 1,896 in 2012 and jumped to 3,125 in 2013. A total of 8,450 persons, a record of sorts, were detained under the Goondas Act and the National Security Act for protesting against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project. A media report in October last year said that Tamil Nadu had the dubious distinction of being the top among States for detaining people under the Goondas Act. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data show that as many as 1,268 persons, including 21 women, were detained under the law in 2015 in Tamil Nadu. It was followed by Telangana (339), Karnataka (232) and Gujarat (219). Sixty-two of the 1,268 detainees were graduates or postgraduates. The majority of them were released either by the advisory board or by the higher judiciary. Some 400-odd people have served the full 12-month term under the law. A study carried out by the Bureau of Police Research and Development, New Delhi, points out that Tamil Nadu witnessed the largest number of agitations in the country last year, accounting for more than 25 per cent of them.