Despite repeated warnings from the Madras High Court, woman booked under Goondas Act

On June 25, Kaladevi, a resident of PC Patty in Theni got into a heated argument with her neighbour Parameshwari. Kaladevi and Parameshwari have long been at loggerheads over a three-foot pathway that runs adjacent to their house. When Parameshwari’s mother Parvathy came to her daughter’s defence, Kaladevi allegedly pushed the elderly woman down.

A few hours later, Parvathy died in hospital.

Parameshwari approached the local police station, alleging that her mother had died only on account of Kaladevi allegedly pushing her. Kaladevi was booked under Sections 294(b)(sings, recites or utters any obscene song, ballad or words, in or near any public place), 323(Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) and 302(Punishment for murder).

Even as Kaladevi was remanded to judicial custody, her lawyer Chandrakumar believed that she ought to have been booked for culpable homicide as opposed to murder. Therefore, when he applied for bail for his client, he was in for a shocker. The public prosecutor informed the court that the bail petition deserves to be dismissed since Kaladevi was booked under the Goondas Act.

The Tamil Nadu Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug Offenders, Forest Offenders, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Offenders, Slum Grabbers and Video Pirates Act, 1982 or simple the Goondas Act defines a goonda as “a member of or leader of a gang, habitually commits, or attempts to commit or abets the commission of offences.”

Under the Goondas Act, a person may be detained without bail for a period that may extend up to one year.

Justice GR Swaminathan, who was listening to the matter at the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, was in disbelief, stating, “I am conscious of the fact that the detention order passed under Tamil Nadu Act 14 of 1982 can be quashed only in a regular writ proceeding instituted by a writ of Habeas Corpus petition and that it can be taken only by the Hon’ble Division Bench dealing with the Habeas Corpus petitions. I, therefore, have no jurisdiction or power whatever to quash the order of detention. I can only express my utter helplessness and shock. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has held in a catena of cases that the detention order can be passed only if there is a breach of public order. The distinction between the Law and Order and Public Order is well settled. For infraction of mere law and order, the invocation of detention law has been held to be impermissible.”

However, in Kalaidevi’s case it appears that a police officer’s personal animosity against her may have led to the Goonda’s Act being used. In 2014, Kalaidevi had filed a case against the then Sub Inspector (her own relative) and the Superintendant of Police attached to the same police station and district, calling for disciplinary action against the duo over a case that she felt was prematurely closed. Acknowledging this on Friday, the Madras High Court said, it is “quite possible” that a family feud between Kaladevi and the police inspector may have been the reason for the police department slapping the Goondas Act on her. Justice Swaminathan goes on to emphasise in no uncertain terms, “But by no stretch of imagination, the detention order can be slapped against her.”

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