Advisory boards under preventive detention laws are not rubber stamps for the government: Supreme Court


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: About Advisory Board

Mains level: distinction between 'Public order' and 'Law and Order', and the Preventive Detention

Why in the news? 

Recently  SCt said that advisory boards should act like a safety net, protecting people’s freedom from the government’s arbitrary use of power. 

  • They need to make sure there’s a balance between the government’s actions and people’s right to be free.

About Advisory Board:

  • Article 22 of the Constitution makes it mandatory for preventive detention laws to form advisory boards consisting of persons qualified to be High Court judges.
  • Objective: It must consider whether the detention is necessary not just in the eyes of the detaining authority but also in the eyes of the law.
  • Case Background: The judgment came in an appeal filed by a man ordered by the Telangana police to be detained as a ‘goonda’ under the Telangana Prevention of Dangerous Activities Act, 1986.
  • The claim by Telangana police: The man was a threat to “public order”. He was a cause of panic and fear among women. The appellant was accused of making a habit of snatching the ‘mangalsutras’ of his victims in broad daylight.

SC on the Appeal filed under the Telangana Prevention of Dangerous Activities Act, 1986:

  • Qualifications of Advisory Board Members: Justice Pardiwala emphasized that having qualified individuals, potentially fit to become High Court judges, on advisory boards was crucial. This ensures robust scrutiny of government detention orders.
  • Responsibilities of Advisory Boards: These boards, mandated by various laws, are required to review detention orders every three months. 
  • Substantial Evidence to justify detention: Justice Pardiwala highlighted the unfairness of depriving someone of their Personal Liberty based merely on the assumption that they might commit a crime in the future. He stressed the importance of substantial evidence to justify detention.
  • Absence of Evidence of Threat to Public Order: The Supreme Court observed that the state failed to provide sufficient material indicating that the detained individual posed a genuine threat to public order. Specifically, there was no substantial evidence linking him to activities that could disrupt public order.

The distinction between ‘Public order’ and ‘Law and Order’, and the Preventive Detention 

  • Differentiating ‘Public Order’ and ‘Law and Order’: Justice Pardiwala highlighted the distinction between ‘law and order’ issues, which affect only a few individuals, and ‘public order’ concerns, which have a broader impact on the community or even the entire country.
  • Limitations on Preventive Detention: The SC emphasized that preventive detention should only be utilized in exceptional circumstances.  
  • Quashing of Detention Order: Justice Pardiwala ordered the quashing of the detention order against the appellant based on the absence of his direct involvement in any of the First Information Reports (FIRs).  

Conclusion: The Supreme Court emphasizes advisory boards in preventive detention laws aren’t mere rubber stamps for the government but safeguards for personal liberty. They must ensure the necessity of detention, backed by substantial evidence, and limit preventive detention to exceptional circumstances.

Mains question for practice

Q Discuss the recent Supreme Court ruling emphasizing the role of advisory boards in preventive detention laws ( 150 words ) 

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