The polling for over 300 BDCs will be held on October 24 and counting will take place the same day.
Srinagar: The authorities in Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday ended the nearly two-month-long house arrest of almost all Jammu politicians belonging to various mainstream political parties. The decision was taken days after the government announced election for the Block Development Council.
However, politicians from the Kashmir Valley, also detained or placed under house arrest on or around August 5, when the Centre stripped Jammu & Kashmir of its special status under Article 370 of the Constitution and split the state into two Union territories, remain incarcerated.
While most of the leaders and activists were initially taken into “preventive custody” or placed under house arrest, some, including three-time chief minister Farooq Abdullah, were subsequently detained under J&K’s stringent Public Safety Act (PSA) to “prevent a breach of the peace”. However, half a dozen mainstream political leaders of the Valley, and activists belonging to the People’s Democratic Party and People’s Conference among the detainees, were recently released after they reportedly signed bonds to swear they would not indulge in any political activity over the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A or related issues to ensure their release.
Police sources said the Jammu politicians whose house arrest had been ended include National Conference’s provincial president Devender Singh Rana, his party colleagues Surjit Singh Salathia, Javed Rana and Sajjad Ahmed Kitchloo, Congress’ Raman Bhalla and Vikar Rasool, J&K Panthers’ Party’s Harshdev Singh and the Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan Party’s Chaudhary Lal Singh.
The sources said these leaders and activists have been released apparently to facilitate their participation in the coming elections for block development councils (BDCs), the second tier of the panchayat raj system in J&K. The polling for over 300 BDCs will be held on October 24 and counting will take place the same day. About 26,000 panchayat members are eligible to vote.
Nearly 4,000 people were arrested, taken into preventive custody or placed under house arrest in J&K since the abrogation of the state’s special status on August 5. Among those incarcerated are former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti and over 200 other senior and second-rung leaders of mainstream parties, including former ministers and legislators.
However, the authorities claim about 3,000 of them have already been freed. Additional DGP (security and law and order) Munir Khan said: “In this kind of a situation, detentions do take place. These include preventive arrests so that established miscreants don’t disturb the peace and create law and order problems. You need to take preventive measures.”
He added: “If someone’s name in mentioned in an FIR, he is called to the police station. There are people who are called to police stations but sent back to their homes after they sign bonds.”
Besides mainstream politicians, over 100 leaders and activists of various separatist outfits too have been detained or arrested under the PSA or provisions of J&K’s Ranbir Penal Code.
Under the PSA, a person can be detained up to two years without a formal trial. However, such detentions are subject to periodic reviews by a screening panels and can be challenged in the courts as well.
In 2012, the state legislature amended the PSA by relaxing some of its strict provisions. In the case of first-time offenders or individuals who “act against the security of the state” for the first time, the period of detention was cut from two years to six months.
However, the option of extending the detention term to two years is open “if there is no improvement in the conduct of the detainee”.
In June this year, Amnesty International termed the PSA a “lawless law”, saying that it circumvents the criminal justice system “to undermine accountability, transparency and respect for human rights” in J&K.