A division bench of justice M S Ramesh and justice N Anand Venkatesh, pointing out that Goondas Act empowered police with an array of powers, said it has now become the favourite hunting tool for police to deal with common criminals and other undesirables.
“The inferences drawn can be two-fold: Either the state is inching towards lawlessness or that the jurisdiction of suspicion has now become a convenient and potent weapon in the hands of the law enforcing agencies to indiscriminately detain people by a conscious abuse of its statutory powers. It is, therefore, clear to us that the spectre of gross abuse of preventive detention laws hangs over the state and has reached Orwellian proportions,” observed the judges. Between January and October 2022, the division bench in Madurai heard 517 Goondas Act cases, of which 445 (86%) were quashed cases and the remaining 14% were cases which had become infructuous on account of the detention period coming to an end.
“In other words, there is not a single case, under the Goondas Act, in the current year before the Madurai bench where the order of detention has been upheld,” the judges said.
Since 2011, for a whole decade, Tamil Nadu has occupied an unenviable first place in detaining the maximum number of people under its preventive laws in the entire country, the bench rued. In 2021, Tamil Nadu accounted for 51.2% of all detentions in the country. The numbers appear to only rise with each passing year, they said.
“The callous indifference in passing detention orders, coupled with total apathy towards the violation of the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, would clearly constitute a ‘constitutional tort’,” the judges said, adding: “Time has now come for this court to explore the possibility of awarding damages in cases where detention orders are set aside after finding that it was invoked on wholly extraneous and irrelevant grounds, which amount to a conscious abuse of power.”
The court made the observations while quashing detention orders passed by the authorities against persons in two separate cases. In one of the cases, the court had directed the state to pay a compensation of Rs 25,000.