Gujarat Bill an undeclared Emergency: activists

Leader of the Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly Shankersinh Vaghela addresses the media in Gandhinagar on Tuesday.— PHOTO: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT  

Activists and members of civil society have flagged the draconian provisions of the Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Bill 2015 which was passed by the State Assembly on Tuesday.

“This is an undeclared Emergency intended to muzzle dissent in the State. The government wants to spread fear and terror among activists, NGO workers and civil society persons with its stringent provisions. If there is no bail and period of probe is lengthened, it effectively means that a person can be detained for 180 days merely on the basis of phone records,” Gautam Thaker, general secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Gujarat, told The Hindu .

The draconian provisions of the Bill include Clause 16 that stipulates that “a confession made by a person before a police officer not below the rank of Superintendent of Police…shall be admissible in the trial of such accused, co-accused, abettor or conspirator.”

The Bill also provides for extension of the period of investigation from the stipulated 90 days to 180 days.

No bail

Furthermore, the legislation makes offences under the Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Act, 2015, non-bailable. Clause 20 (4) of the Bill states, “Notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure, no person accused of an offence punishable under this Act shall, if in custody, be released on bail or on his own bond.”

The Bill makes “evidence collected through the interception of wire, electronic or oral communication” admissible in the court.

It provides immunity to the State government from legal action. Clause 25 of the Bill states, “No suit, prosecution or other legal proceeding shall lie against the State government or any officer or authority of the State government for anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done in pursuance of this Act.”

Congress opposes

Strongly criticising the new Bill, Congress MLA Shaktisinh Gohil said the legislation went against nationally applicable criminal laws such as the National Security Act, CrPC and the Indian Evidence Act. He said the State government was not empowered to bring a law that contradicted national laws.

President Kalam had returned the Bill recommending the deletion of the clauses pertaining to confession in police custody, tapping phone and online communication, period of investigation and non-grant of bail.

However, Gujarat again passed the same Bill in 2009 for the third time, which is now pending with the President. The new Bill of 2015 retains the same provisions of GUJCOC.

“The intention of the government is only to play politics in the name of terrorism,” Mr. Gohil told The Hindu .