Preventive detentions in 2021 up by 23.7% compared to year before

Number of people in custody or still detained at the end of the year highest since 2017

September 05, 2022 09:28 pm | Updated September 06, 2022 11:15 am IST - New Delhi

Photo used for representation purpose only.

Photo used for representation purpose only.

Preventive detentions in 2021 saw a rise of over 23.7% compared to the year before, with over 1.1 lakh people being placed under preventive detention, according to the latest crime statistics released by the National Crime Records Bureau last month.

Of these, 483 were detentions under the National Security Act, of which almost half (241) were either in custody or still detained as of the end of 2021. A total of over 24,500 people placed under preventive detention were either in custody or still detained as of the end of last year — the highest since 2017 when the NCRB started recording this data.

In 2017, the NCRB’s Crime in India report found that a total of 67,084 persons had been detained as a preventive measure that year. Of these, the report said 48,815 were released between one and six months of their detention and 18,269 were either in custody or still in preventive detention as of the end of the year.

The number of persons placed under detention has been increasing steadily since 2017 — to over 98,700 in 2018 and over 1.06 lakh in 2019 — before dipping to 89,405 in 2020. Data pertaining to 2021 showed that 1,10,683 persons were placed under preventive detention last year, of which 24,525 were either in custody or still detained as of the end of the year and the rest were let go within one to six months of their detention.

While the number of persons placed under preventive detention has seen an increase in 2021, the NCRB data showed that the number of people arrested in such a manner under the National Security Act had dipped significantly compared to the year before.

Preventive detentions under the NSA peaked in 2020 at 741. This number dropped to 483 in 2021.

In 2017, 54.2% of persons detained as such were either in custody or still detained as of the end of the year. In 2021, this number decreased to 49.8%, with more than half of those preventively detained released. 

Extensive use of provision

Among other laws under which the NCRB has recorded data on preventive detentions are the Goonda Act (State and Central) (29,306), Prevention of Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1988 (1,331), and a category classified as “Other Detention Acts”, under which most of the detentions were registered (79,514).

Since 2017, the highest number of persons to be placed under preventive detention has consistently been under the “Other Detention Acts” category. Shwetank Sailakwal, Advocate-On-Record, who has extensively researched preventive detention laws and procedures in India, pointed out that several laws like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act also provide for making preventive detentions.

District magistrates and the police also often make preventive detentions to control law and order in emerging communal clashes or clashes between any two communities — even when it might not always lead to public disorder, he added.

According to Section 151 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the police are empowered to make preventive arrests if they believe they must do so to prevent the commission of “any cognisable offence”. This detention can be extended beyond 24 hours if required “under any other provisions of this Code or of any other law”.

Once placed under preventive detention, it can often take more than a year for the challenge to the detention order to be decided by the courts concerned, Mr. Sailakwal explained.

In July this year, a Vacation Bench of the Supreme Court, while setting aside the preventive detention order issued for a chain-snatcher in Telangana, had observed that these powers accorded to the State were “exceptional” and that since they affect the liberty of an individual, they should be used sparingly. The court had also noted that these powers should not be used to control ordinary law and order problems.

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