There was a time when criminals dreaded being detained under the Goondas Act or the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug Offenders, Forest Offenders, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Officers and Slum Grabbers Act, 1982. For, under this legislation, a person can be detained in prison for up to one year without bail.
However, over the years, the Goondas Act has become a toothless law thanks to the sloppy enforcement by the bureaucracy and police. So much so that over 80 percent of those detained under the Goondas Act manage to walk out of jail within a few months either on the orders of the judiciary or Advisory Board, thereby reducing the invocation of the Act to a mere ritual.
Curiously, in most cases, the detentions are quashed on the grounds of “non-application of mind” by the officials/officers concerned while passing the detention orders. The omissions by the authorities could be as elementary as a translation error or a delayed dispatch of an official reply. The Madras High Court has time and again quashed the detentions due to the silly ‘mistakes’ of the officials. Often unscrupulous detaining officers would omit an innocuous sentence from the detention order while issuing a translated copy of the order to the detenue in a language known to him.
Take the case of Kannan alias Kannapiran, whose detention under the Goondas Act by the Tirunelveli Collector was set aside by the High Court recently. The court had quashed his detention on the grounds that the Collector failed to provide references to some of the previous cases against Kannan to justify the invocation of the provisions of the Goondas Act.
Similarly, the court nullified the detention of another person, P Rajkumar, as the Tiruchy Police Commissioner failed to give the accused copies of the First Information Report (FIR), which is routine procedure.
“Such omissions by the police show they do not bother to apply their minds while preparing the case documents. In most cases, the police would slap fake charges against a person to justify his/her detention. But this is fraught with technical flaws, which is why most detentions do not pass muster before the judiciary,” contends Madras High Court advocate A Rajini, who has represented several Dalits detained under the Goondas Act.
In March 2012, while quashing the detention of ‘Lottery King’ Martin, the HC had underlined the undue delay in delivering an order rejecting an appeal by Martin’s wife against the detention. Similar minor omissions by the authorities ended up in the release of former Union Minister M K Alagiri’s close associates ‘Attack’ Pandi, ‘Essar’ Gopi, V K Gurusamy, Ochu Babu, Kudamurti T Arumugam.