Srinagar: A crackdown under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA), 1978, over the last two months has put pressure on local prisons, with many warrants now lying unexecuted because the jails are running at capacity, ThePrint has learnt.
Arrests under the Act target those who participate in stone-hurling demonstrations and others deemed to be carrying out activities detrimental to national security.
Over 500 people are currently being held under the Act in J&K, 150 of whom were arrested between March and April alone, sources in the security establishment said. These numbers are over and above the prisoners jailed under other crimes, such as murder, theft etc.
To resolve the situation, the J&K Police have made a list of jails outside the Union territory and are writing to prison departments in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, seeking to shift out some prisoners so space can be made to accommodate more PSA-accused, the sources said.
“Because of the crackdown on people involved in stone-pelting and other acts that are detrimental to the security of the country, many were arrested under PSA in the last two months,” a source said, adding: “The Central Jail in Srinagar is full, as is the Kot Bhalwal Jail in Jammu [largest jail in the Union territory]. Smaller jails in districts of Kashmir also do not have space, so we are trying to find ways to accommodate prisoners. We may also shift some of them outside J&K to make space.”
The source said some of the more “chronic stone-pelters” are already sent to prisons outside J&K so that “they cannot evade the system”.
“There is a nexus that operates inside the prison through which they are able to evade the system. If they are lodged outside J&K, they do not have access to local residents or people they know, who may help them, which is why the most chronic of stone-pelters, who are habitual offenders, are all kept in jails outside J&K.”
According to J&K prison department officials, while the Central Jail in Srinagar has the capacity to house approximately 500 people, Kot Bhalwal can accommodate approximately 800, while the smaller jails in districts across the Valley have a strength ranging between 60 and 300. There are a total of 14 jails in the Valley, with an overall capacity of approximately 3,600.
“There is a space crunch. Jails are full but we can accommodate more. The government has already taken a decision to move some people out,” a source in the prison department told ThePrint.
The PSA allows the police to detain any person without trial for up to two years — subject to a review every six months — “in the case of persons acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of the State”. Moreover, “any person acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order” can be held in administrative detention up to one year.
Detention orders under PSA can be issued by divisional commissioners or district magistrates. Moreover, the authority detaining an individual under the Act need not disclose any details about the detention.
Referring to the unexecuted warrants, the security source said, “We have booked people, but have not executed those warrants as there is no space in jails. Those people will be arrested once space is made. It is being done on priority.”
Asked the reason behind the crackdown, conducted despite a drop in incidents of stone-throwing, the source said it was “necessary for maintenance of law and order”.
“These arrests are essential to prevent commission of offences involving breach of peace and tranquility, activities prejudicial to the security of the state and maintenance of public order,” the source added.
‘Situation not fine, but controlled’
Some residents of downtown Srinagar, from where the maximum number of people have been arrested under the PSA, feel that the police “picking up people” has brought the situation under control.
However, others claimed that several innocents were also arrested under the Act.
“People are scared to raise their voices here. If we say anything, protest about anything, the police will slap PSA on us and put us behind bars. There will be no hearing after that for two years. No one wants that, which is why everyone is lying low. The situation is not fine, it is controlled,” a resident who did not wish to be named told ThePrint.
Another resident of downtown Srinagar, whose relative was arrested in a 2019 case of lynching, said on condition of anonymity that PSA accused who are released by the courts after appealing against their arrests are rearrested in different cases.
“The police may say that there is a review of each PSA case and it is lifted if the person is not found to be guilty, the reality is that the people booked under PSA are rearrested in different cases, even after the court releases them and lifts the PSA. The police ensure that they do not come out of the prison,” he claimed.
“My relative has been in jail for the last three years. He got bail in that case but, before he could come home, the police slapped PSA against him in a separate case and kept him inside prison. This was done to ensure that he does not return home despite being granted bail,” he further alleged.
A senior police officer, however, denied the allegations and said that reviews of PSA cases are conducted diligently and the ones found to be not guilty are released.
“Regular reviews are undertaken on a case-by-case basis and, accordingly, extension in detention or revocation is made based on reports of field agencies and the ground situation,” the officer said. “The cases you are referring to where PSA was invoked and people given bail were rearrested, are those of habitual offenders and those arrested for heinous crimes.”
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)