People involved in illegal sand mining and black-marketing of essential commodities will soon face charges under the stringent Maharashtra Prevention of Dangerous Activities (MPDA) Act, 1981. Bringing these crimes under the MDPA Act would allow the police to make preventive arrests of repeat offenders and detain culprits for up to a year. The controversial act empowers the government to order the preventive detention of repeat offenders merely on the basis of suspicion.
The Maharashtra cabinet has approved a proposal to amend the MPDA Act to include these two offences. The government also plans to amend other parts of the act to enable it to charge government officials found colluding with illegal sand miners and black-marketeers.
Allaying fears of the law’s possible misuse, food and civil supplies minister Girish Bapat said, “The use of any legislation depends on the authorities implementing it. We must ensure that it is never misused. The act would, anyway, apply only to repeated offenders,” he said.
The proposed amendments come weeks after the food and civil supplies department, for the first time, imposed the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crimes Act (MCOCA) on five people suspected of stealing food grains meant to be distributed under the public distribution system.
According to a senior official in the food and civil supplies department, the amendment to the MDPS Act would reduce the black-marketing of essential commodities. He said the step was necessary as existing laws don’t offer a strong enough deterrent. The Essential Commodities Act, 1955, classifies items such as drugs, grains, pulses, seeds, kerosene, petrol, diesel and natural gas, among others, as essential commodities.
“A provision in the law to enable such detentions would be a major psychological victory for us against black-marketeers and illegal sand miners. The lack of punitive measures against these illegal activities is a major loophole, which has been repeatedly exploited by criminals,” said an official from the food and civil supplies department.
The MDPA act, originally called the Maharashtra Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Slumlords, Bootleggers, Drug-offenders, Dangerous Persons and Vide Pirates Act, 1981, initially covered only the activities mentioned in its title.