The Big Story: Misrule of law

Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu is a textbook case of how Indian democracy has failed its people. The town’s people had been protesting for the three months against the expansion of the Vedanta Group’s Sterlite Copper plant, which they claimed was polluting the region. On May 22 and 23, police firing killed 13 agitators with television visuals of snipers seeming to pick out protestors. Rather than attempting to calm down the situation, the state government has followed up with more harsh measures. On Monday, it used the National Security Act to place six members of Makkal Adhikaram, an organisation involved in the anti-Sterlite protests, under preventive detention. The law allows the administration to detain people merely under the presumption that they could do something prejudicial to national security. It also denies them access to a lawyer or a hearing before a court of law.

It is entirely possible that a section of hardline protestors pushed the movement towards violence on May 22. If that is the case, the protesters should be identified and charged for their acts rather than be locked up under preventive detention. Indeed, the six members of Makkal Adhikaram had already arrested ten days earlier and booked under a phalanx of charges, reported the NewsMinute. These were the Indian Penal Code’s sections 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance ), 506 (II) (Criminal intimidation) and sections 3,4 of the Tamil Nadu Public Property (Prevention of Damages and Loss) Act.

After this battery of charges, the decision to use the preventive detention powers of the National Security Act seems arbitrary. Arresting a citizen without charges is a hallmark of authoritarian states – not democracies. Unsurprisingly, India’s laws on preventive detention trace their history back to the Rowlatt Acts of the British Raj. The transfer of power in 1947 did not change this. Jawaharlal Nehru’s Union government soon passed a Preventive Detention Act. Later, preventive detention was allowed under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act, used widely during the Emergency. In 1980, the Union government put in place the modern National Security Act that allowed state and the Union government to detain a person up to 12 months. The People’s Union for Civil Liberties pointed out in 1981 out that the act was passed to crush dissent, targeting “political activists and trade unionists”.

Not much seems to have changed in almost four decades. In addition to Thoothukudi, the National Security Act has been used over the past year in Uttar Pradesh against a prominent Dalit activist Chandrashekhar Azad and in Assam and against anti-corruption activist Akhil Gogoi.

The Big Scroll

  • In Assam, detention of peasant leader Akhil Gogoi under the National Security Act looks uncannily like a political arrest, argues Ipsita Chakravarty.
  • The use of National Security Act to keep the Bhim Army’s Chandrashekhar in prison is draconian, writes Shoaib Daniyal.


  • The Indian Administrative service is here to stay since it suits the political executive, argues KBS Siddhu in the Print.
  • Like it occupied Aksai Chin in the 1950s and what it is doing in the South China Sea, China is slowly altering the landscape at the Doklam Plateau in its favour, writes Brahma Chellaney in the Hindustan Times.
  • For those exiled from Shillong over the decades by a xenophobic politics, a willful amnesia has been the only way to move on, writes Amrita Datta in the Indian Express.

Don’t Miss

Villagers in Jharkhand’s Godda district ask why should they lose land for an Adani project supplying power to Bangladesh. Aruna Chandrashekhar reports:

“‘We are Santhals. We must die on our own land, not on the banks of the Ganga,’ said Girinath Tudlu from the village of Gangta. ‘Adani can kill us if they want, we are not going anywhere.’

The Santhal Parganas witnessed a rebellion in 1855 against oppressive land tenure systems introduced by the British. In 1876, the Santhal Parganas Tenancy Act was passed, which was adopted by Independent India in 1949. The law prohibits the transfer of farmland in the area, barring a few exceptions – for instance, when land is acquired for the government or the railways under the 1894 land acquisition law.”