Gross misuse? No prior record but TN woman booked under Goondas Act

Despite repeated warnings from the Madras High Court, the Tamil Nadu police continue to use the Goondas Act generously.
Gross misuse? No prior record but TN woman booked under Goondas Act
Gross misuse? No prior record but TN woman booked under Goondas Act
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On June 25, Kaladevi, a resident of PC Patty in Theni got into a heated argument with her neighbour Parameshwari. Kaladevi and Parameshwari have long been at loggerheads over a three-foot pathway that runs adjacent to their house. When Parameshwari's mother Parvathy came to her daughter's defence, Kaladevi allegedly pushed the elderly woman down.

A few hours later, Parvathy died in hospital.

Parameshwari approached the local police station, alleging that her mother had died only on account of Kaladevi allegedly pushing her. Kaladevi was booked under Sections 294(b)(sings, recites or utters any obscene song, ballad or words, in or near any public place), 323(Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) and 302(Punishment for murder).

Even as Kaladevi was remanded to judicial custody, her lawyer Chandrakumar believed that she ought to have been booked for culpable homicide as opposed to murder. Therefore, when he applied for bail for his client, he was in for a shocker. The public prosecutor informed the court that the bail petition deserves to be dismissed since Kaladevi was booked under the Goondas Act.

The Tamil Nadu Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug Offenders, Forest Offenders, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Offenders, Slum Grabbers and Video Pirates Act, 1982 or simple the Goondas Act defines a goonda as “a member of or leader of a gang, habitually commits, or attempts to commit or abets the commission of offences.”

Under the Goondas Act, a person may be detained without bail for a period that may extend up to one year.

Justice GR Swaminathan, who was listening to the matter at the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, was in disbelief, stating, "I am conscious of the fact that the detention order passed under Tamil Nadu Act 14 of 1982 can be quashed only in a regular writ proceeding instituted by a writ of Habeas Corpus petition and that it can be taken only by the Hon'ble Division Bench dealing with the Habeas Corpus petitions. I, therefore, have no jurisdiction or power whatever to quash the order of detention. I can only express my utter helplessness and shock. The Hon'ble Supreme Court of India has held in a catena of cases that the detention order can be passed only if there is a breach of public order. The distinction between the Law and Order and Public Order is well settled. For infraction of mere law and order, the invocation of detention law has been held to be impermissible.”

However, in Kalaidevi’s case it appears that a police officer’s personal animosity against her may have led to the Goonda’s Act being used.  In 2014, Kalaidevi had filed a case against the then Sub Inspector (her own relative) and the Superintendant of Police attached to the same police station and district, calling for disciplinary action against the duo over a case that she felt was prematurely closed. Acknowledging this on Friday, the Madras High Court said, it is "quite possible" that a family feud between Kaladevi and the police inspector may have been the reason for the police department slapping the Goondas Act on her. Justice Swaminathan goes on to emphasise in no uncertain terms, "But by no stretch of imagination, the detention order can be slapped against her."

‘Repeal Article 22 of Constitution’

The controversial act, which has long been a weapon in the hands of the ruling dispensation in the state is once again seeing a mass application for a variety of alleged crimes.

Student-activist Valarmathi was arrested under the Goondas Act in July 2017 for distributing pamphlets to students asking for their support against the implementation of the Neduvasal hydrocarbon project. Thirumurugan Gandhi, the leader of May 17 Movement, was also detained under the Goondas Act in September last year for attempting to stage a protest at the Marina Beach in memory of Tamils who were killed in Sri Lanka.

In November last year, when the state police had slapped the Goondas Act on one Gagan Bothra for usury, the Madras High Court observed, "The detenue may have been indulging in usury. However, that cannot lead to the conclusion that he is a goonda as defined under Tamil Nadu Act 14 of 1982. The state must revisit these cases and not wantonly and casually use the provisions (of the Act)."

On July 10, the Madras High Court similarly quashed the detention of 'Rocket Raja', a suspected kidnapper.

Speaking to TNM, retired Madras High Court Justice Hariparanthaman points out that Article 22 of the Constitution— protection against arrest and detention in certain cases— empowers both the state police as well as the Goondas Act in itself.

“Today, the Goondas Act has replaced regular trial. It is unfortunate in a democratic country. And it is not just the Goondas Act. They are detained under NSA and any other preventive detention law where they can be detained without bail for a year. Practically, there is no legal remedy in these cases. You cannot even seek bail. That is how things have been going on. These laws are all based on Article 22 of the Constitution. No democracy in the world has such a provision. They may charge you for espionage but they cannot detain you for months on end. Hundreds and thousands have been detained across India with such acts. Article 22 should be deleted from the Constitution altogether. It is a shame. No amendments are possible here. It has to be repealed,” says the retired judge.

The slapping of the Act also holds severe consequences for human rights in the state. Speaking to TNM earlier, senior lawyer Sudha Ramalingam had said, “The Goondas Act has been highly abused by the Tamil Nadu police. One act of crime cannot attract such a provision. It is better to get the chargesheet done with and ensure that the case goes to trial. What is important is to not prolong the case. The Goondas Act does not guarantee that.”

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