In a hush-hush PSA ordinance, PDP-BJP government removed Chief Justice from consultation process

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Srinagar: Three months before the incumbent Governor’s administration brought a fresh amendment to the Public Safety Act (PSA), to allow lodging of PSA detainees in jails outside Jammu and Kashmir, the PDP-BJP government had through an ordinance changed the mode of selection of the advisory board assigned to review all PSA detention orders.
The advisory board is mandated to review the PSA detention orders cleared by district magistrates on the recommendations of district police chiefs.
Earlier, the law required the government to appoint the Board’s chairperson and members in consultation with the JK High Court’s Chief Justice. The ordinance promulgated on May 22 removed the mandatory requirement of consultation with the Chief Justice. Now, the Chief Justice had to be consulted only when the government intended to appoint a sitting judge of the High Court or a sitting district or sessions Judge as the chairman and members of the advisory board.
The May 22 ordinance decreed that the selection of the Board’s chairman and members will be solely done by the government through a three-member search-cum-selection panel led by the chief secretary. The panel will have as members the administrative secretaries of departments of home, law and justice, and parliamentary affairs.
“The search-cum-selection process will be completely government-dominated, if an elected government is in power or if J&K is placed under Governor’s rule,” informed Venkatesh Nayak, Programme Coordinator of Access to Information Programme at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.
Bringing an ordinance has raised questions on the motive of the previous government because it did not comply with statutory obligations of the J&K RTI (Right To Information) Act about the reasons for making the changes. The Act mandates the government to announce all relevant facts while announcing decisions that affect the larger public and requires every public authority to give reasons for administrative and quasi-judicial decisions to persons affected by such decisions.
Another provision of the J&K RTI Act requires the government to ensure that public authorities under it disseminate accurate information about their functioning from time to time.
“Nor did the government explain to the people of J&K what circumstances existed that required the promulgation of this ordinance, without waiting for it to be brought as an Amendment Bill before the state legislature,” added Nayak.
Last month, the Governor’s office brought another amendment to the Public Safety Act to allow lodging of J&K residents booked under the Act to be shifted to jails outside the state. It deleted the provision that said, “Provided that the detenues who are permanent residents of the state shall not be lodged in jails outside the State.”
“Official justification for the latest amendment has not been issued despite the statutory requirements under the J&K RTI Act,” said Dr Shaikh Ghulam Rasool, Chairperson of the J&K RTI Movement.
The fresh amendment to the law has led to both mainstream parties and separatists to demand its rollback. The PSA, described as a “lawless law”, has long been under criticism from human rights groups. The PSA allows detention of a person without trial up to a minimum of three months, which can be further extended to six months and, subsequently, one year.