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Between January 2018 and December 2020 the Allahabad High Court quashed as many as 94 out of the 120 detention orders issued by District Magistrates (DM), reveals an investigation by the Indian Express. The newspaper studied police and court records to reveal a pattern where the court has pointed out in several cases that police FIRs have been copy-pasted across locations, detention orders issued without application of mind, accused has been denied due process, using the National Security Act (NSA) to block bail and so on. Furthermore, the advisory board, where the detained person is allowed to make a representation, has upheld the detention in all these 120 cases.
The investigation shows that as many as 41 NSA cases, out of the total cases that came before the High Court, pertained to incidences of cow slaughter. It was found that all the accused were from the minority community and in 30 cases (more than 70%) the High Court quashed the NSA detention order, and ordered the release of the petitioner. In the remaining 11 cases, except one, bail was granted to the accused persons stating that judicial custody was not required.
In each of these cases, the lower court or the DM had cited similar grounds for invoking NSA: that the accused had moved for bail and their release was “imminent.” And that if the accused was out of jail, he would “again” indulge in “activities prejudicial to public order”.
The IE investigation revealed some key points while setting aside detention orders in these cow slaughter cases:
In as many as 11 detentions, the court cited “non-application of mind” by the DM while passing the order.
In 13 detentions, the court said the detained person was denied the opportunity to represent himself effectively while challenging the NSA.
In seven detentions, the court noted that these cases came under the ambit of “law & order” and there was no need to invoke the NSA.
In six detentions, the court flagged that NSA was invoked on the basis of a solitary case — and that the accused had no criminal antecedents.
An analysis of police records revealed that In nine detentions, the NSA was invoked on the basis of FIRs that claimed that police were set into action on the basis of a lead given by an anonymous “informer” on the cow slaughter. Few other observations include:
13 detentions were based on FIRs that claimed that slaughter allegedly took place in an “open agricultural field” or a forest
In 9 detentions, DMs relied upon FIRs that said the slaughter allegedly took place inside the four walls of a private residence
In 5 detentions, DMs relied upon FIRs that said slaughter allegedly took place outside a shop.
The investigation has also drawn out similarities in the detention orders passed by DMs and point towards the striking similarities in these orders, many of them being ad-verbatim:
In seven detentions alleging cow-slaughter, the NSA order said that “atmosphere of fear and terror has engulfed the whole vicinity”.
In six detentions, the NSA orders used six identical grounds: some “unknown persons” fled from the spot; minutes after the incident, police personnel were “attacked”; due to attack on the police party, “people started running helter-skelter and the situation has become tense”; people “started running to reach to a safe place”; due to the “atmosphere, people are not attending their day to day work”; due to the act of the accused, “peace and tranquility of the area and law and order situation was badly disturbed”.
In two detentions, the NSA orders have identical grounds: “women, in particular, became reluctant to go out of their house and do their routine work”; and that “tempo of life was adversely affected and the public order was shattered”.
In two other detentions, the grounds were the same: “An atmosphere of fear had developed, nearby girls school was closed as also doors of the neighbouring houses”.
Further analysis of the records showed that the NSA was invoked in cases to prevent the person from being released from judicial custody after getting bail. In 12 detentions under NSA between January 2018 and December 2020, the person remained in jail more than 200 days after the criminal court had already granted bail; in three detentions, the persons remained in jail for more than 300 days — in one case, for 325 days, and in another, for 308 days.
Analysis of court records in cases such as these where a draconian law like the NSA has been invoked is imperative to understand whether it is being misused to intimidate a certain class, community or caste of the society. The fact that the majority of these detentions were nullified by the Allahabad High Court show the malafide intentions of the police as well as the DMs behind invoking NSA, which is to keep people under detention, without trial, for the maximum period of time. It is only when the petition comes before the High Court, when the accused is hopeful of his release from such unreasonable detention, albeit validated by law.