Prisoners and Passports

During a meeting with the Director General of the Police (DGP) and the Additional Director General of the Police (ADGP) for the CID, Jammu and Kashmir’s new Chief Minister has ordered the release of political prisoners who face no criminal charges, and also issued instructions for concerned authorities to speed up the verification process for passports. Both initiatives have been widely welcomed, as jails hold a large number of individuals against whom no criminal charges have been filed but are imprisoned under preventive detention laws to “restrain them from posing threat(s) to the security of the state,” statutes which, in the instance of the Public Safety Act (PSA), the Amnesty International has described as “lawless law.”

In most cases, where some have served five to six successive terms under PSA charges, detainees happen to be the only bread-winners of their families, and by placing them under preventive detention; the state has deprived their wards of their sole means of sustenance. Though the jail manual has provisions prescribing succor for such homes, the state has never honoured them, effectively causing the PSA to leave many broken families across the state. Besides the Chief Minister’s stated intent of the prisoner release process sending a “positive message across the political spectrum,” his order, if and when implemented, would be some amelioration for these suffering households. The battle of ideas cannot be won by strangling dissent.

The decision to make passport clearance time-bound and minimizing procedural wrangles has also been widely appreciated.  Delays in issuing passports and providing clearance for travel have been a constant source of dismay and irritation for common people. Now that the orders have been issued, it is the duty of the administration to implement them in letter and spirit.  The Chief Minister has also been urged to consider the problem related to issuing passports for relatives of former militants. Denying passports to individuals who might have had a distant relative involved in militancy in the early nineties makes no sense. According to reports, such cases, where many applicants have even been effectively barred from performing the Hajj, run into thousands, thanks to the state’s intelligence sleuths. This must end, particularly when the Chief Minister may be presumed to be aware of the long-pending public demand.