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Preventive Detention against Anti-Social Activities: Need to widen the scope?

Maintenance of law and public order is preliminary function of State. The primary object behind the enactment of preventive detention laws is to safeguard the society at large from illegal activities. It is the degree of disturbance and its effect upon the life of the community in the locality which determines the nature and character of breach of public order[1].

Majority States in India have enacted preventive detention laws to arrest the habitual offenders like drug lords, forest offenders, goonda land mafia, property grabbers, sexual offenders etc. Preventive detention law forms part of Concurrent List consequently various States have widen the scope of the Act according to their discretion. For instance, State of Maharashtra[2] additionally includes Video Pirates under the scope of offenders whereas State of Bihar[3] includes indecent remarks or teasing women. Thus scope of offences under the respective Preventive Detention Acts varies from State to State.

The prerequisites invoking preventive detention law is:
  1. habitual offender and;
  2. prejudicial to maintenance of public order.

Last demi-decade have witnessed many anti social activities which tend to disturb the public tranquillity and escape the clutches of law due to its absence under any other Act. Change in societal norms entails expansion of scope of law of preventive detention against anti social activities apart from Sand grabbers, bootleggers and immoral traffic offenders.

With the advent of Covid-19, attack on medical officers, obstructing police officers, breach of lockdown have increased in different parts of country. The incidences are novel and States find it difficult to curb such menaces as scope of amended Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897[4] is limited to healthcare personnel. Attack on public officers, healthcare workers, armymen or any other personnel engaged in relief oriented work during the emergent situations like pandemic, riots, natural calamities etc. can be included under the scope of the preventive detention laws to avoid obstruction of duty.

Practice of Yellow Journalism is very fatal in times of social media. A simple forward or fake video have resonated grave incidences like mob lynching and suicides. People are more susceptible to manufactured posts and sensationalised pictures which diminishes the line between real and sham. It is need of the hour to include the Fake news and Blind item spreaders in the purview of the law, whose objective is to spread hatred and disharmony in society. However, a definite prescribed procedure would require identifying the habitual offender.

Cruelty to animals is one of the heinous crimes. Paradoxically in a country where animals are worshipped, there is a segment of society who habitually abuses and hoards animals for their entertainment. Be it killing of stray dogs or unnatural sex with goats, habitual animal abusers should be included as it is not just crime against the society but also crime against the nature. State of Gujarat is one such State which have included offence under Gujarat Animal Prevention Act under its purview of preventive detention.

A progressing society necessitates dynamic laws which can confront new challenges for its betterment. Crime is changing phenomenon which necessiaties law to be revised periodically. Undoubtedly the tool of preventive detention law is to be exercised very cautiously and in cases of habitual offenders only as the powers under this law is often misused. However, emergent incidences demands strengthening legal handcuffs by enlarging the scope of offences to maintain law and order in society.

End-Notes:
  1. T.Devaki V. Government of Tamil Nadu (1990 (2) SCC 456)
  2. Maharashtra Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Slumlords, Bootleggers, Drug Offenders, Dangerous Persons, Video Pirates, Sand Smugglers and Persons Engaged in Black-Marketing of Essential Commodities Act, 1981
  3. The Bihar Control of Crimes Act, 1981
  4. Section 1A and Section 2B inserted by Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 dated 22.04.2020

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