The Madras High Court today heard a Habeas Corpus plea moved by the father of student activist Valarmathi, who had been detained under the Tamil Nadu Goondas Act on July 17..Valarmathi, who pursues journalism at Salem Periyar University, had been arrested for distributing pamphlets opposing hydro-carbon and methane projects in Kadiramangalam village on July 12, an act the police have allegedly deemed as “harming national interest”..As vocal protests increased following her arrest, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami justified the action, stating that the detainee already had six prior antecedents. He was quoted as saying,.“How could law and order be maintained if protests were held 6-7 times in the name of democracy? In a democracy, (people) have a right to protest. Yet, if they tried to instigate the public and destabilise law and order, Goondas Act will definitely be invoked.”.However, Human Rights Advocate Bala Murugan has pointed out that the six prior cases registered against the detainee were bailable offences. The invocation of Goondas Act was aimed at her detention. Further, the objectionable pamphlets distributed contains information about a nature protection group and support to farmers..The petition moved before a Division Bench of Justices A Selvam and P Kalaiyarasan avers that the detention was per se illegal and amounted to an abuse of power. It emphasizes that people have the right to assemble peacefully without arms and that the agitation that was conducted is constitutionally protected under Article 19 (1) (b) and (c)..The Court has directed that a reply be presented by the Home Ministry and the Commissioner of Police, Salem. The plea for interim bail of the detainee has been posted for Monday..This is not the first time that the Act has attracted criticism for its potential for enabling abuse of power and human right violations. Another detention that has attracted attention recently is that of social activist Thirumurugan Gandhi and four others after he led a candle light vigil on May 17 in support of Sri Lankan Tamils..The Act in question, now formally titled the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Cyber law offenders, Drug-offenders, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Offenders, Forest-offenders, Sand-offenders, Sexual-offenders, Slum-grabbers and Video Pirates Act, 1982, was introduced with the ostensible object of protecting public order through the preventive detention of certain prescribed criminal classes of people, including “goondas”..Section 3 of the Act empowers state authorities to pass detention orders where there is a perceived threat to the maintenance of public order. The orders passed have to be forwarded to the state government along with the grounds for the same..Section 8 mandates that the person detained has to be informed of the grounds for detention and, further, that he should be given an opportunity to make a representation against the order before the government. However, the authorities have the power to withhold such disclosure where it deems that such disclosure would affect public interest..As per Section 10, a three week leeway is given to the detaining authorities to present the case before an Advisory Board constituted under Section 9, regarding the grounds for detention and the representation made against it by the detainee. The Advisory Board may then make its report thereon, within seven weeks from the date of detention..It has been observed that rather than wait for this process, many detainees or their representatives opt to file Habeas Corpus petitions invoking Article 226 of the Constitution, as is the case in Valarmathi’s detention..Subsequent amendments to the Act in 1987, 2004 and 2006 have further expanded the applicability of the Act from an original prescribed list of five to nine criminal classes referred to in its title..It has been reported that abuse of the provisions of the TN Goondas Act has contributed to the repeated emergence of Tamil Nadu as the state with maximum detentions in the country..It is debatable whether the Act serves its stated purpose of maintaining law and order and public peace, or whether it is only being used a tool for state repression of popular dissent. However, the aforementioned recent episodes have given a new lease to petitions currently circulating online, which call for the repeal of the Act..Read other change.org petitions here and here..Read copy of Habeas Corpus Petition filed on behalf of Valarmathi below.