Experts divided on new UP special force
Additional chief secretary (home) Awanish Kumar Awasthi said UPSSF’s work profile will be similar to the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), which guards airports and vital installations across India. “We have not given the new force any extraordinary powers and most of the provisions are similar to the CISF Act,” he said.Updated: Sep 15, 2020 01:36 IST
Lucknow/New Delhi: The Uttar Pradesh government defended on Monday a controversial new security force with sweeping powers to arrest or detain suspects even as some legal experts cautioned about the possibility of misuse and the Opposition alleged the force could be used to muzzle dissent.
The constitution of the UP Special Security Force (UPSSF) to guard strategic and vital installations, courts, government premises, religious spots, transport hubs, industrial undertakings, and private buildings – if permitted by the state government – was announced on Sunday. The first phase of the 9,919-strong force is expected to be launched in three months, at a cost of Rs 1,747 crore.
Additional chief secretary (home) Awanish Kumar Awasthi said UPSSF’s work profile will be similar to the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), which guards airports and vital installations across India. “We have not given the new force any extraordinary powers and most of the provisions are similar to the CISF Act,” he said.
Section 10 of the UPSSF Act empowers the force to arrest any person without a warrant or order from a magistrate on suspicion that the suspect is connected to an offence or taking steps to commit one. Section 11 allows the force to detain, and search without a warrant. In both cases, the suspect is to be handed over to a police officer “without delay”. Section 13 said personnel of this force would be considered on duty round-the-clock and could be deployed for security anywhere in the state
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) backed the force. “This is an excellent initiative by chief minister Yogi Adityanath ji to protect the sovereignty of institution of state. This is also a good step to win confidence of investors. The opposition should rise above vote bank politics and join in welcoming this move,” UP party secretary Subhash Yaduvansh said.
But the Opposition called the force a deception. “It’s a tool and conspiracy to crush constitutional rights by political power…this is violation of human rights, constitutional rights,” said the Samajwadi Party. The Congress party compared the provisions to the Rowlatt Act of 1919 that gave British forces power to indefinitely detain and jail without trial. Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee president Ajay Kumar Lallu called the act undemocratic and said it could used against citizens.
The legal foundation of this force is the UPSSF Act, 2020, which was passed by the state’s legislative assembly in its monsoon session and assented to by the governor on August 28. The act, which followed an ordinance, was passed after the Allahabad high court in December 2019 took cognisance of a murder inside a courtroom in Bijnor and ordered the state government to strengthen security inside court campuses.
A senior state government official said the UPSSF’s powers were similar to those given to CISF and special forces in Odisha and Maharashtra. “Such powers could not be misused in anyway,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
But a CISF officer disagreed, saying the central paramilitary force doesn’t have arrests or search powers. “It can detain people at the place of its duty like airports or metro stations but they are handed over to the police ultimately…we don’t know how SSF will work but we are a completely different force,” said the officer who didn’t wish to be named.
A senior Odisha police official said that while the eastern state created a special force in 2012 for protection of public and private industrial undertakings, it did not have the power of arrest, raid or seizure.
In Maharashtra, the state security force was formed after the 26/11 terror attacks to guard vital installations and institutions.“We can arrest a person without a warrant but cannot search a place without it,” said D Kanakratnam, director general of police (DGP), Maharashtra State Security Corporation.
Legal experts differed in their view of the provisions – especially Sections 15 and 16 that provided protection to force from prosecution for any act “done in good faith” under the act.
“No court shall take cognisance of an offence against any member of the force with regard to anything done or any action taken or purporting to have been done or taken in the discharge of his duty except with prior sanction of the state government,” read Section 16 of the act.
“Though the protections under Sections 15 and 16 seem to be pari-materia [dealing with the same subject] with similar provisions in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), the Act when taken as a whole, constitutes a special force, gives them a carte blanche and assures them of state protection against allegations of misuse. Absolute, unaccountable power to a police force is the hallmark of a police state,” said senior Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Hegde.
He agreed that the force was given wide powers to arrest, even in situations that may otherwise be a non-cognizable offence (less serious offences for which a warrant is needed to arrest), like lurking in a court building or near a bank premises.
Alok Prasanna Kumar, a senior resident fellow at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, said Sections 15 and 16 were “very standard provisions”.
“The function of UP Special Police as per section 3 (of the Act) is very clear – to protect institutions, high court, district courts, state government administrative premises, religious spots, metro rail, airports etc. If this is being done to reduce the burden on UP police, well and good. It is not like this special force can investigate offences, file FIRs etc. This is more like a state level Central Industrial Security Force. If they have the money to do this, good luck to them,” said Kumar.
Senior Lucknow-based advocate IB Singh said the deployment of the force was quite limited for guarding strategic and VVIP installations.
Raja Bagga, a senior officer at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, said the presence of detailed oversight provisions in the CrPC was a recognition of the importance of procedural safeguards to ensure fair trial rights.
“The Uttar Pradesh Special Security Force Act 2020, by providing discretionary powers to the police to search and arrest without a warrant or order from the magistrate, is giving more power to an already unaccountable police...the UP police is seriously understaffed, and has one of the lowest sanctioned strengths,” he said.
(with inputs from HTC in Lucknow, Mumbai and Bhubaneswar)