Terror law: Yes for Mumbai, no for Gujarat

Date: 7/25/2006


Terror law: Yes for Mumbai, no for Gujarat Kanchan Gupta | New Delhi - Pioneer With a 600-km long border with Pakistan and a coastline that stretches across a whopping 1,600 km, providing innumerable landing spots for craft carrying explosives, arms and terrorists, Gujarat is a prime target for jihadis who have already drawn blood at Godhra and Akshardham, and carried out bombings and other assaults. Yet, the State has been disallowed the right to have a law that empowers its police to intercept chatter, carry out pre-emptive strikes to prevent death and destruction, and prosecute terrorists in a manner that they get their just desserts. This is in sharp contrast to neighbouring Maharashtra where the ruling Congress-NCP alliance, armed with the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) can fight back terrorists and criminals by bringing them to justice. Acknowledged as an effective instrument to combat organised crime, MCOCA was made applicable in Delhi through a Home Ministry order of February 1, 2002. But Gujarat has been denied a mirror law to fight terror. The salient features of MCOCA, which make it a tough law to bust tough criminals, are missing from The Unlawful Activities (Preven-tion) Amendment Act of 2004 that was brought in by the UPA Government after repealing POTA. For instance, unlike the Central law brought in by the Government, which has to be followed in the absence of a State specific law to fight terrorism, MCOCA disallows suspects access to easy bail, provides for special courts for their trial and qualifies statements given to the police as admissible evidence. While pushing The Unlawful Activities (Prevent-ion) Amendment Act through Parliament, the Government argued that a tough law by itself is no protection against terrorism and gave examples of how terrorists had struck despite POTA. As part of its policy of appeasement, the UPA scrapped POTA and left the police in States like Gujarat to fight terrorism with a law that is weaker than the ones meant to tackle hoarding and drug peddling. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, addressing a meeting in Mumbai last Monday, pointed out the fallacy in UPA's argument by stressing that "while it is true POTA did not always prevent terrorists from striking, it helped punish the perpetrators". The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act does not allow even this much. He also disclosed how the Union Home Ministry has not cleared the Gujarat Control of Organised Crime Bill, modelled on MCOCA, for the past two years despite several reminders and requests. Modi's usual detractors slammed him the next day, saying he wants to arm himself with a "draconian law". But the Bill passed by the Gujarat Assembly is no different from MCOCA. There is no reason why Congress-ruled Maharashtra and Delhi can have such a law while BJP-ruled Gujarat is disallowed the wherewithal to combat terrorism. Apart from providing for harsh penalties, including death sentence, for committing acts of terror, the Gujarat Bill allows the setting up of special courts to deal with cases in a time bound manner. It also empowers the police to intercept, record and produce as evidence any electronic or verbal communication, allows statements made to the police to be presented as admissible evidence and makes bail provisions more stringent than those in the CrPC. In Maharashtra and Delhi, these provisions are already applicable under MCOCA. Asked why Gujarat needs the Centre's approval for its proposed law despite its passage in the Assembly, a senior official explained, "Public order is a State subject on which the State Government is competent to enact a law and the Governor has the power to give assent to it. However, since the proposed law overrides certain provisions of the Evidence Act, IPC, CrPC and the provision relating to the jurisdiction of various courts, approval of the Government of India is necessary." After detailed correspondence between the State Government and the Centre when the NDA was in power, the Control of Organised Crime Bill, already passed by the Gujarat Assembly, was amended to exclude three clauses. The amended Bill was once again passed by the Assembly on June 2, 2004, and re-submitted for Presidential approval through the Union Home Ministry on June 16, 2004. Since then, the Bill has been gathering dust in North Block despite several representations, official communications and a non-official resolution passed by the Gujarat Assembly. On April 4 this year, Member of Parliament Pushpadan Gadhvi wrote to Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, requesting immediate action on the Bill. On April 7, Patil wrote back, saying the "matter was under the consideration of the Government of India". Three days after the Mumbai bombings left 200 people dead and hundreds of others injured, Modi wrote to Manmohan Singh, seeking his intervention to secure Presidential approval for the Bill lying with the Home Ministry. The request has been met with silence. Obviously, the Congress is in no hurry to empower Gujarat's police so that it can crack down on organised crime. By allowing personal animus and political bias to dictate its duplicitous policy, the Congress has chosen to wilfully endanger life and property in that State by sending a clear message to criminals: If it's a choice between protecting Gujarat and emboldening terrorists, the Union Government under its tutelage will not opt for the former. MCOCA can, gujcoc can't Death sentence or life term and a penalty of Rs 10 lakh Special courts to try terrorism cases in time-bound manner Bail provisions tougher than those in CrPC Attachment of property bought by terror funds Cops can intercept, record electronic & oral communication Statements given to police admissible as evidence in court 000000000