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Legal eagle swooping on the system

Why should a lawyer have to go to court in black coats in the scorching heat of Delhi? Why should a man protesting a hike in milk price be booked for terrorism? There are numerous such anomalies afflicting our system. ANUJ KUMAR finds out in this conversation with Surat Singh, a lawyer-turned-writer... .

Surat Singh, author of "Law Relating to Prevention of Terrorism."

SOMETIMES USUAL strikes when you come across the unusual. That a lawyer is meant to take sides dawns upon you when you come across one, who charters a middle path albeit when he wields a pen or talks about its manoeuvres. The man is renowned lawyer, Surat Singh, who has compiled a comprehensive book on terrorism related laws in India, "Law Relating To Prevention Of Terrorism" together with Hemraj Singh.

On the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 (POTA), Surat Singh asserts, "the new law is not going to help as the word terrorist has not been clearly defined, which is the norm since the first act to define `terrorism', Terrorism Affected Areas (Special Courts) Act, 1984. All through the definition has been kept elastic so as to fulfil the requirements of the government." He calls POTA a reincarnation of Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 (TADA), which succeeded in securing just three per cent convictions and ironically, in many cases the charges were under TADA but the convictions were under Indian Penal Code (IPC). "When TADA was in force some 20,000 people were put behind bars in Gujarat. Besides terrorists these included bootleggers, people protesting against power price hike and students protesting against rise in the cost of milk. Such was the result of using terrorism, a vague expression as `disruptive activities' to describe a major ground of prosecution. In fact, it was used as a threat against all those, who `differed' with the Government", he apprises.

However, in the same vein he says: "I am not against giving powers to the Government agencies but there has to be a degree of transparency and safeguards as democratic norms haven't percolated down our bureaucracy and the officers still have feudal mindset. Also, laws should be few and simple but strictly enforced." This takes the lawyer, who has three Masters of Law degrees against his name, one each from Delhi, Oxford and Harvard to the genesis of the Constitution, which he terms, a rhetorical one. "Of the 395 articles, about 250 have been lifted from Government of India Act, 1935, a product of the then British Government. In an effort to make it ideal, the framers lost touch with reality as a number of laws either didn't suit or have become redundant over a period of time. A lawyer still has to address the judge as lord and is bound to come to court in black coats in scorching summer."

Coming back to the book, besides terror laws it also includes The Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 and the Charter of United Nations to give what Surat Singh calls a "balanced view" to the oeuvre. Though he believes of the three pillars of our democracy it is the Judiciary that has stood the test of time but his next book, "Judging Judgments of Supreme Court: How Wise, How Otherwise" is an analysis of cases, where the highest court erred in interpreting the Constitution. The lawyer's romance with the middle path continues.


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