Another Attempt on Personal Liberty in Gujarat
Ever since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister, ‘the Gujarat model’ has come to occupy the center-stage. The Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Bill, which was passed by the State Assembly on 31 March amid strong opposition from Congress members who staged a walkout, is a rogue legislation incorporating the infamous provisions of the extinct Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
If it gets the President’s assent, other States will be tempted to introduce similar legislation which could lead to gross violation of personal liberty and misuse of power by the executive to settle political scores.
The most obnoxious provision of the Bill is empowerment of the police to drag on investigation for 180 days against 90 days permitted under the Code of Criminal Procedure. During this period the accused could be held in custody. The capacity of our police to extract any confession it wants from the accused during custodial interrogation is well known.
Such confession, extracted under torture and duress, is inadmissible in evidence under the Indian Evidence Act. The GCTOC Bill accords sanctity to such confession and makes it admissible as evidence in court of law. It also makes information collected through interception of wire, electronic or oral communication also admissible in court.
Empowering the police to intercept telephone calls is a violation of the Indian Telegraph Act. Section 25 of the Bill provides immunity to the police from legal action for anything done in good faith in pursuance of this draconian legislation.
It is the fourth attempt by the Gujarat government to arm itself with extra-constitutional powers to battle terrorism. The first attempt was made in 2001 when the BJP was in power both in the State and at the Centre.
The draft Gujarat Control of Organised Crime Bill was returned by the then Union Home Minister LK Advani suggesting changes. The Assembly passed in 2003 the GUJCOC Bill again incorporating suggestions made by the Centre, but Gujarat Governor Sundar Singh Bhandari, instead of giving his assent, sent it to President APJ Abdul Kalam who returned it stating the Constitution does not permit States to enact laws that go against Central laws.
Gujarat’s attempts to get the Bill passed in 2008 and 2009 when the UPA was in power at the Centre met with the same fate. Now, Home Minister Rajnikant Patel who piloted the GCTOC Bill in the Assembly has raised concerns over Pakistan’s attempts at cross-border terrorism and stressed the need for a strong law.
Organised criminal syndicates were making common cause with terrorist gangs and foster macro terrorism which extended beyond national boundaries, he said. After repealing the POTA, the UPA government had put in place the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act which, in conjunction with the Code of Criminal Procedure, should suffice to tackle terrorism of the kind Patel was harping on.
It may be pointed out that if the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, 1999, on which the GCTOC Bill is modeled, could not prevent the 26/11 Mumbai attack by terrorists from Pakistan, how would this new law help Gujarat prevent cross-border terrorism from across Pakistan?