Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Government Returns Gujarat’s Anti-Terror Bill

The Union Government has returned the controversial Anti-Terror Bill passed by the Gujarat Assembly with the recommendation that without three key amendments it cannot be sent for the presidential approval. The decision to return the bill has been taken to bring it in conformity with the Unlawful Activities Prevention (UAP) Act which was amended by Parliament in 2008. The bill has three provisions which are not in accordance with the UAP Act.

Gujarat Control of Organised Crime Act
The Union Government has approved the proposal to recommend to the President that the Gujarat Control of Organised Crime (GUJCOCA) Bill may be returned to the State to make three changes before it can be sent to the President for assent. Until about a decade-and-a-half ago, terrorism was confined to the country’s border states, namely Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and in the Northeast, with occasional strikes by terrorists from Punjab in other parts of the country. But during the last few years, the menace of terrorism has gradually spread across the country, leaving hardly any state unaffected.

The Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Government in Gujarat has been demanding early assent to the bill, which is pending with the Centre for more than four years. It is seeking to bring in the anti-terror law on the lines of the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime (MCOCA) passed by the State Assembly.

The Provisions
Under the proposed Gujarat Control of Organised Crime Act, a confession before a police officer is admissible in a court. This should be made inadmissible. The act also contains a clause stating that a court cannot grant bail if the public prosecutor opposes it. The court should have the power to grant bail even if the public prosecutor opposes it. The third amendment is related to Section 20 (2) of the act that the home minister did not specify.

The principles are that we will be able to recommend for the assent of the President of this only after the three provisions are amended to bring in conformity with what the Parliament has passed recently, mainly UAPA, that is as far as Union Cabinet is concerned. Following the outbreak of terrorism in Punjab, the Union Government promulgated the Terrorist and Disruptive ` Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) in 1985. But this led to considerable misuse, the worst by Gujarat where a staggering 19,000 persons were booked even though there had been no incident of terrorist violence until 1995, the year when the law was allowed to lapse. In Punjab, a total 14,557 were booked under TADA.

Yet, the conviction rate was a dismal 0.37 per cent. In all, 77,000 persons were detained nationwide under TADA of which only 8,000 were finally tried and a mere 725 indicted. The short-lived Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), too, was misused and civil liberties groups are making similar allegations against the current UAPA. The Bill, passed in 2004, has been pending with the Centre since four years. During this period, the Home and Law Ministries examined it but the UAPA amendments, relating to the anti-terror provisions, were approved by Parliament recently.

The Union Government proposed deletion of a provision relating to confessions to a police officer, which are admissible; allowing the court discretionary power to give bail after hearing the public prosecutor; and the third relates to powers of a special court to extend the period of detention from 90 to 180 days. It should be amended in such a way as not to vest discretion entirely with the special court.

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