PRESIDENT Pranab Mukherjee recently returned to the Gujarat government the Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime (GCTOC) Bill on the grounds that he had some serious concerns. This is the third time the Bill has been sent back in the past 13 years. The State government does not view favourably suggestions to amend a few clauses and seems adamant to have the Bill passed in its original form.
The Bill had been rejected during the presidencies of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Pratibha Patil too. The GCTOC has been described as a draconian law which can be severely misused to harass and victimise people on the smallest pretext. Human rights activists say that it is aimed at minority communities. They say some of the undemocratic and objectionable provisions in the Bill include those that allow interception of mobile phone calls and those that admit as evidence in court confessions made to a police officer.
Gujarat has the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which is a stringent law to handle security issues, but the State government believes there is a need for stronger laws to check organised crime and terror given the State’s 1,600-kilometre coastline and a porous border with neighbouring Pakistan. In 2003, Narendra Modi, as Chief Minister, introduced the Bill in the State Assembly citing reasons of national security. It was passed and subsequently sent to President A.P.J Abdul Kalam for ratification. Kalam returned the Bill objecting to the clause on interception of communication. In 2008, the Assembly cleared the Bill after the interception clause was deleted. President Pratibha Patil returned the Bill, objecting to the clause that made admissible as evidence confessional statements made before a police officer during trial. The State government then made a few minor changes to the Bill and renamed it by inserting the word “terrorism”, and sent it to the Centre for approval.
There are about half a dozen objectionable clauses in the Bill, which also provides for a suspect to be kept in custody for 30 days, instead of the current 15 days. Additionally, there is a recommendation that the police can take up to 180 days to file a charge sheet instead of the current 90 days. “All these clauses are ripe for misuse by the police,” says Achyut Yagnik of the Centre for Social Knowledge and Action in Ahmedabad. The Central government has also questioned Gujarat on the use of the word “terrorism”. “This law is even more stringent, draconian and anti-democratic than the MCOCA,” says Yagnik. “It was floated by Modi almost as soon as he became Chief Minister. Clearly, the BJP seems determined to see it through,” he says.
“The BJP tried to politicise the issue by saying that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government was not passing Bills proposed by BJP States. However, this time their own government is in power and it has still come back,” says Arjun Modhwadia, a senior Congress leader in Gujarat. The then Home Minister Amit Shah had said that if Maharashtra could have MCOCA then Gujarat was entitled to its own law. The lawyer and human rights activist in Ahmedabad Sophia Khan says that Mumbai was attacked on November 26, 2008, in spite of the MCOCA. Before that, even the repealed Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), 2002, did not serve any purpose and was certainly no deterrent.
By Anupama Katakam