While there is concern over history-sheeters detained under the Goondas Act walking free using legal loopholes, human rights advocates are equally worried over the frequent political abuse of the legislation. They say the stringent legislation, whose objective is to contain anti-social elements, has become a political weapon to settle scores.
“PMK leader ‘Kaduvetti’ Guru was detained under the Goondas Act when the DMK was in power the last time. However, soon after the PMK entered into an electoral alliance with the DMK when the High Court quashed Guru’s detention, the then state government did not bother to re-arrest him in other cases,” points out advocate Bhavani B Mohan.
While he feels that the legislation could be invoked appropriately, a section of social activists argues that the existence of such harsh legislation is anti-constitutional and must be abolished.
“Such extraordinary laws that curtail basic rights of citizens are required only when an extraordinary situation prevails in the country. Now we don’t have any such situation, so such an Act is not required,” contends human rights activist Professor A Marx.
According to him, it is mostly Dalits and people from economically poor sections who end up getting detained under the Act on false charges.
“Usually, the Superintendent of Police is the sponsoring authority and the District Collector is the sanctioning authority for detaining a person under the Goondas Act.
The collectors are expected to take an objective view of the facts before passing the detention order. But almost all collectors mechanically sanction the detentions proposed by the SP,” charges Mohan.
“Our police lack skill and knowledge to conduct a scientific investigation and detect the real accused. Mostly they pick up persons from Dalit communities and frame them. Ultimately, it is these innocent persons who languish in jails,” alleges advocate A Rajini.
Marx highlighted the case of a billboard painter who ended up being detained under the Goondas Act during the anti-nuclear protests in Koodankulam. “The man was merely painting the banners for the protestors for money, which is a legal act. But he was detained under the Goondas Act for participating in the protest,” he says.