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07 April, 2015

A law unto itself

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

For 12 years the Gujarat government, under Narendra Modi, relentlessly sought to enact a draconian law ostensibly to combat terrorism.

But the Centre – first the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government of Atal Behari Vajpayee and then the Congress-led government of Manmohan Singh – blocked assent to the measure.

Last week, the State Assembly passed the Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime (GCTOC) Bill for the fourth time.

With Modi in the Prime Minister’s chair, it may now be cleared by the Centre.

Two high-ranking police apologists, former Central Bureau of Investigation Director RK Raghavan and former Maharashtra police chief D. Sivanandan, immediately commended the measure publicly.

They conceded it was not perfect but wanted it to be viewed “as a piece that would hone itself over the years in the hands of those in authority.”

But the history of India’s black laws and the record of the Gujarat police leave no room for optimism.

When the Centre returned the bill to the state for the second time, it had suggested changes in three clauses.

However, Modi got the Assembly to pass it again without any change.

In their laboured defence of GCTOC, Raghavan and Sivanandan did not explain why the state wants a separate law to deal with terrorism when it can use the laws enacted by the Cenbtre from time to time.

First, there was the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) of 1985, which was in force for 10 years before it was allowed to lapse in view of strong public criticism.

In 2002 the Vajpayee government enacted the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

The first Manmohan Singh government repealed POTA but incorporated some of its harsh features in the Unlawful Activities Prevent Act, brought in to check threats to the nation’s sovereignty and integrity 40 years earlier.

Many of the provisions of the Gujarat law are copied from the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), enacted in 1999 to deal with gangsterism in Mumbai.

It was made applicable to Delhi in 2002.

An official committee which reviewed the working of MCOCA found that on an average about 40 cases were registered under it each year and six or seven arrests were made in each case.

Only a small number of persons hauled up under it belonged to minority communities.

The fond hope of Raghavan and Sivanandan about Gujarat police patterning themselves after their Maharashtra counterparts is unsustainable.

A National Human Rights Commission study found that Gujarat accounted for as many as 19,000 of the 65,000 TADA cases although there was no significant militant activity in the state during the decade that the law was in force.

Modi, of course, bears no responsibility for the misuse of TADA in Gujarat since he became Chief Minister only in 2001.

But he cannot be absolved of blame for the misuse of POTA under his watch.

According to Dr Mukul Sinha, an advocate, in the wake of the communal riots of 2002, the state government used POTA to perpetuate the communal divide.

In all but one of the 287 POTA cases the accused were Muslims.

The lone exception was a case against Sikhs.

Gujarat police officials were involved in several cases of fake encounters and illegal snooping.

Coinciding with Modi’s rise on the national stage the noose around their necks has loosened.

But the Supreme Court’s damning conclusion that the state police implicated innocent persons in the Surat blast and Akshardham encounter cases cannot be brushed under the carpet.

The police love black laws because they make things easy for them.

Recognising the police’s propensity to extract confessions from those in custody, the colonial regime made them inadmissible as evidence in courts, and that is still the law of the land.

However, the black laws allow such confessions as evidence, permit tapping of telephones and provide a time-frame of 180 days, instead of the normal 90, to file charge-sheets.

They also make it hard for the accused to get bail.

There is nothing to prove that black laws have a deterrent effect.

On the contrary, there is evidence to show that they are counterproductive.

No charges were framed against 18,708 of the 76,166 persons on whom TADA was slapped till 1994, and only four per cent of those charged were found guilty.

As the well-known human rights organisation People’s Union for Civil Liberties has pointed out, such laws are actually tools of state terrorism. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 7, 2015.

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