Tightening laws to hide failure in their enforcement– Part I

The Kerala government has been resorting to new legislation with stringent provisions just to hide its failure in enforcement of the laws and administration of justice.

It brought the Antisocial Activities (Prevention) Act, popularly known as the Goonda Act, as public protest grew over activities of goondas and quotation gangs in the State. The Act provides  for preventive detention of goondas— that is imprisonment without trial, amounting to violation of human rights.

Administration of Justice

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The question whether such Act was required is debatable. Most of the goondas against whom public ire was growing had dozens of cases against them. Yet, they were getting bail and committing fresh crimes. The prosecution was repeatedly failing to get convictions. This was because of the protection the goondas were getting from politicians and officials. The law was brought to hoodwink the public.

Naturally, it failed to check the goonda menace, as the political and official patronage of goondas continued. Since public protests grew over operation of quotation gangs, the government proposed tightening of the law. The period of preventive detection was extended from six months to one year. So, the government is having a brief reprieve.

The government brought a law to take over ecologically fragile lands after it failed conduct forest cases properly in courts. Most of the land in question could have been retained by the government under existing laws, if the government would have fought the cases properly in courts. Several cases were won by plaintiffs by producing forged documents which went unchallenged during trial. The law was later diluted since complaints grew over its use.

When the Land Utilisation Order failed to check conversion of paddy fields, the government replaced the order with legislation to protect paddy fields and wet lands. However, the law did not yield any results, as it could not be implemented effectively. The politicians themselves worked to grant exemptions and protect those converting paddy fields. In fact, the issue was one that could have been addressed better by eliminating the economic reasons for conversion of paddy fields. Similar is the case with law for protection of rivers where laws alone is not the answer. The government would have done better by taking measures to improve the availability of sand and taking the lucre away from sand mining. Pollution could have been tackled through existing laws.

Recently, it brought legislation to check charging of excessive interest rates by money lenders. This was done against the background of suicides by farmers and others because of indebtedness. This was when the enforcement of existing money lenders Act was lackadaisical. Though it is four months since the Ordinance was promulgated, no action had been against any money lender  while many borrowers continue to struggle.

When the government and local self governments failed to set up proper facilities for treatment of waste, it brought legislation recently mandating processing of waste at source. Several of its provisions are difficult to enforce, simply because of the difficulty in setting up processing units at every establishment and home. Governments and local bodies fail to come up with solutions despite brave words. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, for example, had promised to solve the problem in six months. But, it is one year now. After six months, he turned to the legislative solution.

What the tightened laws often achieve is only increase in the level of corrupt
Part II: Laws that make you insecure

Preventive detection, rule of law and human rights

The government is planning to amend the Anti-social Activities (Prevention) Act to enhance period for preventive detention of goondas from six months to one year. This is a measure intended to douse public anger over the free reign of quotation gangs and political murders. It does not address the real issue.

The real issue is that the conviction rate of goondas is not very high and that they manage to get bail and paroles easily. This happens because of their liaison with politicians and police officials.  Kodi Suni, who is accused in the T. P. Chandrasekharan murder case, for example, is accused in more than two dozen criminal cases. How come people like him could freely roam around and engage in criminal activities including murders.  This is not because we did not have stringent laws. Note the trouble the Italian marines had in getting bail and the conditions attached to the bail.  In case of hardened criminals, the bail conditions will be stringent. They manage to undermine the system because of the assistance they are getting from politicians and police officials.

What the government is trying now to hoodwink the public into thinking that the government is acting against the quotation gangs and criminals. But what the law will achieve is to help the administration to hold goondas in jail for a little longer, that is, till the public anger would subside. They would be out of jail after another six months as the cases against them may not lead to convictions. Given the condition of jail administration, they would also be able to plan criminal activities including murders from within jail. If at all they are convicted, governments would release them from jail after some years.  Even an accused in despicable murders like that of K. T. Jayakrishnan had been released after eight years while several others who participated in the murder had not been arrested.

On the other hand, the Act has the potential to be misused.  Measures like preventive detection itself are a human rights violation in most circumstances. When preventive detections become routine, one cannot say it the rule of the law.