Govt appoints Justice Dinesh Kumar Sharma of Delhi High Court as Presiding officer of UAPA Tribunal

The government has appointed Justice Dinesh Kumar Sharma of the Delhi High Court as the Presiding officer of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Tribunal. The presiding officer has been appointed to review the ban on the Popular Front of India (PFI) and its associates. The centre has recently banned PFI for five years, after seizing incriminating documents during the search operations at the offices of the outfit and the residences of its office bearers.

What is PFI?

Formed in 2006, the PFI describes itself “as a non-governmental social organisation whose stated objective is to work for the poor and disadvantaged people in the country and to oppose oppression and exploitation”.

The PFI came into existence after the National Development Front (NDF) – a controversial organisation established in Kerala a few years after the Babri mosque was demolished in 1992 – merged with two other organisations from the south. Over the next few years, it developed a broader base as more organisations across India merged with it.

At present, the PFI, which has a strong presence in Kerala and Karnataka, is active in more than 20 Indian states and says its cadre strength is in the “hundreds of thousands”.

Why is PFI controversial?

In its mission statement on its website, the PFI claims to want to establish an “egalitarian society where everyone enjoys freedom, justice and a sense of security”. It says that changes in economic policies are required so that Dalits (formerly untouchables), tribal people and minorities get their rights.

However, the government has registered a host of charges against the group and its members, including “sedition, creating enmity between different sections of society and taking steps to destabilise India”.

The PFI first stepped into the limelight in 2010 after an attack on a college professor in Kerala. The assault came after several Muslim groups accused him of asking derogatory questions about the Prophet Muhammad in an examination. A court convicted some of its members for the attack, although the PFI distanced itself from the accused.

More recently, members from the group were also linked to the beheading of a Hindu man in the western state of Rajasthan in June.

A few months ago, police in the eastern state of Bihar claimed that the group had allegedly circulated a document that spoke of making India an Islamic nation. The PFI had denied the allegations saying that the document – India 2047: Towards Rule of Islamic India – was forged.

One of the main allegations against the PFI has been its connection to Simi, which was outlawed by the government in 2001. The PFI has also been linked to the Indian Mujahideen, another banned militant group.