The Jammu and Kashmir administration has invoked the Public Safety Act to keep former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah under detention, reported PTI on Monday. This is the first time a former chief minister has been booked under the stringent law.

Abdullah was booked under the “public order” section of the Public Safety Act, which allows one to be detained for six months without trial, unidentified officials told PTI. Another section, which is invoked in case of threat to security, allows for detention for up to two years without trial.

The home of the National Conference leader has been declared a temporary jail for the purpose, IANS reported. The decision was taken on Sunday, the night before the Supreme Court was to hear a plea seeking Abdullah’s release, filed by Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief Vaiko. Abdullah has reportedly been under house arrest for six weeks.

The National Conference said that it would seek legal recourse to challenge the detention of the party’s chief. “They have no justification to do that, but if they have booked him [Abdullah] under the PSA, then what can we do?” said party’s senior leader Mohammad Akbar Lone. “We can only approach the courts. We will take constitutional and legal recourse.”

The North Kashmir MP also called the government’s decision unfortunate, and said that it was a matter of shame that Abdullah had been booked under the Act. “If there was anyone who would talk of India here, it was Abdullah,” he said. “If anyone has been abused, it is Abdullah and today, this is how India pays him.”

Hearing Vaiko’s petition on Monday, the top court issued a notice to the Centre and the state administration, and posted the matter for next hearing on September 30, PTI reported. A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta if Abdullah was under detention, to which Mehta said he would get instructions from the government. Mehta opposed the notice to the Centre, claiming Vaiko did not have locus standi in the matter.

Vaiko said he was a close friend of Abdullah for the past four decades. He said Abdullah had been deprived of his constitutional rights on account of “illegal detention without any authority of law”.

Vaiko had filed the plea last week, asking for Abdullah to be allowed to attend a “peaceful and democratic” annual conference in Chennai on September 15, organised on the birth anniversary of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister CN Annadurai.

On Wednesday, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court had allowed two National Conference MPs to meet Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, but prohibited them from speaking to the media about their meeting.

On August 6, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had claimed in the Parliament that Abdullah was “neither detained nor arrested”, when members questioned his absence from the Lok Sabha debate that day on Article 370 of the Constitution. However, Abdullah refuted the claim in a brief statement to the media outside his home soon after. He said he had been detained in his house and expressed sadness “that Home Minister can lie like this”.

Abdullah is a member of the Lok Sabha from Srinagar.

The Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act was also used to detain bureaucrat-turned-politician Shah Faesal on August 14. The controversial law was passed in 1978, ostensibly to curb timber smuggling in the state, by the government of Abdullah’s father, Sheikh Abdullah. Typically, those detained under the law are taken to distant jails, far away from their homes or families, who are kept in the dark about their location. The state police has used the law to detain several separatist leaders and youths accused of involvement in stone-pelting incidents.

Abdullah, as well as other Kashmiri politicians like his son Omar Abdullah and Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti, have been under detention since the Centre scrapped special status to Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, and imposed a curfew in the state. Prohibitory orders are being lifted gradually but the communications blockade remains in most parts.

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