•  •  Dark Mode

Your Interests & Preferences

I am a...

law firm lawyer
in-house company lawyer
litigation lawyer
law student
aspiring student

Website Look & Feel

 •  •  Dark Mode
Blog Layout

Save preferences

Minority Report is not fiction, PreCrime is now the law in Karnataka

Minority Report: Nice on film, not so nice in reality
Minority Report: Nice on film, not so nice in reality
Supreme Court advocate KV Dhananjay argues that the Karnataka legislature’s amendment to the so-called Goonda’s Act is ‘exceedingly dangerous’ by extending the concept of preventive detention to future rapists, future copyright and internet violators.

“Hollywood is indeed prophetic – the theme of the ‘Minority Report’ movie is already here”, he says.

[Full text of amendment at the bottom of this article]

Hollywood certainly had this one coming - I vividly remember a Hollywood film that I had watched a decade ago and which continues to be beamed regularly to our homes through television. It was ‘Minority Report’ by Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg. In this movie, the police’s PreCrime department had fully prevented all violent crimes with the help of gifted clairvoyants. These gifted clairvoyants could see the future and whenever they would see a crime happening in the future, the police would then intervene and lock up those whose future crime was vividly seen by these clairvoyants.

However, Hollywood still had the decency to envisage release of the detainees sooner than the new Karnataka law: Even in this Hollywood movie, the police would have locked up a person only until the foreseen day and hour and would release him after that. Now, you take that very film and replace the gifted clairvoyants with the highly corrupt Karnataka police. The result will be the recently amended Goondas Act. Of course, there is a long title to this law but let us call it as the “Karnataka Goondas Act” [The Karnataka Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug-Offenders, Gamblers, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Offenders, Slum-Grabbers and Video or Audio Pirates (Amendment) Bill 2014, if you're interested -Ed].

Yes. You are the Goonda: You, the reader, females included, could become the ‘Goonda’ for the purpose of this law and you don’t even have to remotely look or act like the Goondas that you see and detest in films or television.

Mindless and a dangerous law – a year without bail: I cannot imagine a more mindless and dangerous law than the recent amendments that were made to the Karnataka Goondas Act. Ordinarily, the law enforcement apparatus comes into the picture only after a crime has been committed. However, under the Karnataka Goondas Act, even mere suspicion is enough for the Government to lock up any citizen and keep him without bail for three months in the beginning and extend it up to a year.

Goondas Act does not punish for past crimes; it only foresees, fears and detains persons from committing future-feared crimes: Remember this carefully – if a person commits an act that is already punishable under some other law, he will be punished only in accordance with that other law. The Goondas Act has nothing to do with punishing any person who commits any crime; its entire focus is to fear that a certain person will commit a crime in future and to detain him in prison for a period of up to a year without bail - – because the Government fears that the suspect will commit the apprehended crime if not so kept behind bars.

Smartphone users beware: If you use a smartphone and do any of the things that most smartphone users do on any given day, you are at risk of arrest under this law by virtue of the recent amendments. This law says that if you transmit any copyrighted material to another person say, a song or any other thing on forums such as Whatsapp or Facebook, you could be arrested. What’s worse, you don’t even need to actually transmit anything. It is enough if the Government thinks that you are likely to transmit in the future. You could be arrested on such mere suspicion.

Sheer ignorance of the constitutional allocation of law-making power between the Centre and the States: The Constitution of India expressly states that only the Parliament and the Central Government could make laws on copyright and telecom. Further, another amendment to the Goondas Act makes it an offence to do certain acts already prohibited by the Information Technology Act, 2000, a central legislation. These new amendments to the Goondas Act appear to have been advised by people who have clearly not read the Constitution of India carefully as subjects that are exclusively central in nature have also been regulated and made punishable by virtue of the recent amendments to the Goondas Act, a State legislation. Any constitutional lawyer will readily tell you that what has just been done is utter nonsense.

Digital offender – meaning of ‘commercial purpose’ is too wide: Let us more closely look at the definition of a ‘digital offender’ in this law. It says that whoever transmits any copyrighted material for a ‘commercial purpose’ could be taken into preventive custody. The problem is that the words ‘commercial purpose’ are too wide and if you freely download or transmit any song or other material that is also available for purchase officially, the ‘commercial purpose’ clause is easily attracted as although you might not have intended to make any money for yourself through such transfer, your actions had the effect of saving money for yourself and that clearly is a ‘commercial purpose’. Nowhere else in the world does one come across such a law that threatens the whole community of internet users with a year in prison without bail and it is just a matter of time before the whole world takes notice of what the Government of Karnataka has just done.

Lawmakers did not really intend to make such a law? It is also possible that the State Government may tell you that they did not intend the new law to have such a shocking result. Let me tell you that it matters nothing on what the lawmakers really intended. If the lawmakers wanted to make it an offence to steal a ‘horse’ but ignorantly or mistakenly had put their seal of approval on a law that had said that it would be an offence to steal a ‘donkey’, the enforcement agencies or the courts will not at all bother about what the lawmakers had in their minds and this being a criminal statute, the enforcement agencies will simply go by the plain words and not on the basis of what the Government had intended; law enforcement will prosecute whoever would steal a donkey. Intention of the lawmakers behind a criminal law matters for nothing when the words expressed give an altogether different meaning.

Preventive detention of a future-rapist: Now, let’s come to another thoroughly controversial aspect of this law. Rape. A person who just committed a rape could of course, be booked under this law and spend a year behind bars – but the reason for invoking this law would not be that a crime was committed but that the Government fears that the person in question is likely to commit more of such crimes in the future. In other words, for this law to be invoked on a person, it is not at all necessary that he should have actually committed a rape at all. It is perfectly fine if the Government suspects that the person in question would commit a rape in the future.

On what basis would the Government suspect that you will commit a rape in the future? Now, on what basis could the Government ever suspect a person could commit rape in future? I must call this amendment utter rubbish. The Government may very well knock on your door and ask you on ‘what really is the guarantee that you, an ordinary citizen, would not commit a rape of another over the course of say, the next twelve months?’ One could always argue forcefully that you, whoever you are, could commit a rape in the next twelve months and you cannot really defend such an accusation except by not committing any rape in the next twelve months – but the Government would say that it cannot risk such a dangerous possibility and it would therefore, want to confine you behind bars and ensure that you do not commit any rape over the next twelve months by cutting off your liberty to move as you please.

The fallacy in all of this: The fallacy in this whole line of reasoning is that, the Government has already asked a wrong question and you can never ever satisfactorily defend yourself when you are asked a fundamentally wrong legal question. Instead, your refuge lies in attacking the question itself – on what basis is anybody suggesting that you are likely to rape another? The problem with this law however, is that, it does not at all allow you to attack the question itself. It is enough if the Government suspects that you will commit a rape and it could put you behind bars for a year. Period.

Do our ministers even read the laws that they get passed by the legislature? After my comments on this law were reported in the media, senior ministers had come out to clarify and have said that the Goondas Act only deals with repeat offenders. No more evidence than this is required to show that our ministers have not even read what has been passed in the legislature.

The amended Goondas Act has 12 classes of offenders. 10 out of these 12 classes do not deal with repeat offenders at all and only the definitions of a ‘street goonda’ and ‘video or audio pirate’ speak of a ‘repeat offence’.

So, if you hear a minister of the Government of Karnataka says next time that the recent amendments only deal with ‘repeat offenders’ please ask that minister to read the new law carefully.

Repeat offence is a pre-requisite only for arresting a member of a street gang or professional video or audio pirates. For rest of the offences or suspicion, there is no need for the Government to show any ‘repeat offence’. Our ministers either do not know to read properly or are deliberately fooling the people of the State.

Nobody will become safe under this new horror; many will live in fear: Finally, the only thing that will happen from all of this is that the Karnataka State police force that is already one of the most corrupt in the country could very well emerge as one of the most corrupt in the world.

The public is not going to feel safer by reason of these new amendments. You will only live in continuous fear. Just wait and witness it.

KV Dhananjay is an advocate of the Supreme Court of India


3. Power to make orders detaining certain persons. (1) The State Government may, if satisfied with respect to any bootlegger or drug-offender or gambler or goonda or immoral traffic offender or slum-grabber that with a view to prevent him from acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order, it is necessary so to do, make an order directing that such persons be detained.

Amendment Bill:

5. Amendment of section 3. - In section 3 of the principal Act, for the words “Bootlegger or Drug Offender or Gambler or Goonda or Immoral Traffic Offender or Slum-Grabber of Video or Audio Pirate”, the words “Acid Attacker or Bootlegger or Depredator of Environment or Digital Offender or Drug Offender or Gambler or Goonda or Immoral Traffic Offender or Land-Grabber or Money Launderer or Sexual predator or Video or Audio Pirate” shall be substituted.

Karnataka Goondas Act (amendment)

Click to show 1 comment
at your own risk
By reading the comments you agree that they are the (often anonymous) personal views and opinions of readers, which may be biased and unreliable, and for which Legally India therefore has no liability. If you believe a comment is inappropriate, please click 'Report to LI' below the comment and we will review it as soon as practicable.