Stage set for taking on underworld dons

BANGALORE, DEC. 30. With the Karnataka Control of Organised Crime Bill, 2000 becoming an Act with the President, Mr. K.R.Narayanan, giving his assent to it, it is now time for the State Government to act against anti-social elements.

The Government has now legislation aplenty to deal with organised crimes and also terrorism. Besides the Bill which has become an Act, is the Centre's Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO), which the Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Mr. D.B.Chandre Gowda, said would be enforced despite the reservations of the Government and the Congress over some of its provisions.

To boot, the statute book of the State has on it, what is called the Goonda Act -- the Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug Offenders, Gamblers, Goondas, Immoral Offenders and Slum Grabbers Act of 1985. However, it is another thing that none of those crimes has been tackled by the State Government in the past 16 years, whatever may be their political complexion.

The Bill adopted by the State Legislature in September 2000, had been held up at the Government of India level. It was even being alleged that the Union Home Ministry was sitting over it, though the Union ministers had denied it more than once. Delays in the Bills adopted by the two Houses of the State Legislature and reserved for presidential assent by the governors and awaiting the nod of Rashtrapati Bhavan for long are not uncommon. The most delayed one in that regard was the Karnataka Education Bill of 1983 which was cleared by the President after a decade.

The Control of Organised Crime Act should be sufficient to deal with underworld leaders such as Muthappa Rai, who are stated to be calling the shots from their hideouts in foreign countries and having a hearty laugh at the police. He is stated to be operating from one of the Gulf countries with which India has no extradition treaty. He is, perhaps, one of the most notorious fugitives from the world of crime in the State. Besides the Dawood Ibrahims and Chhota Rajans at the national level, the other parallel was the Bangalore (Central College) educated Dharma Teja, of Jayanti Shipping fame, who was extradited in the sixties after strenuous efforts after he emerged out of Costa Rica.

In its very statement of objects and reasons, the Organised Crime Bill says: ``Organised crime is a very serious threat to our society. It knows no national boundaries. It is fuelled by illegal wealth generated by contract killings, smuggling in contraband, illicit trade in narcotics, kidnappings for ransom, collection of protection money from business establishments and individuals, and money laundering etc. The illegal wealth generated by the organised crime is so huge that after a stage, its perpetrators are trying to interfere with the vital institutions of the State with their money power or through threat or intimidation. In fact, their criminal activities tend to put a question mark on the very existence of the State.''

About the criticism that the Organised Crime Bill is in fact as severe as POTO, the Chief Minister, Mr. S.M.Krishna, more than once said that the Government had an open mind and the provisions which infringed on civil liberties would be deleted or amended.

It will be of interest that though POTO is being divested of the provision (sub-clause eight of Clause three) which was hostile to the media, the Karnataka Control of Organised Crime Act retains in its very definition of the word ``abet'' a provision which seeks to threaten freedom of the Press -- communication or association with any person with the knowledge of having reason to believe that such person is engaged in assisting in any manner, an organised crime syndicate (Clause 2 (a) (i) and passing on publication of or distribution of any document or matter obtained from the organised crime syndicate'' (Clause 2 (a) (ii). Though the Law Minister has denied that the Bill poses any threat to freedom of the Press, the word publication cannot but refer to newspapers or journals and not anonymous publications which an ancient Act of 1867 is already taking care of.

Another criticism against the Karnataka Act is that while human rights bodies have laid down that review committees dealing with such legislation should be manned by judges, the Review Committee under the Act is a bureaucratic one consisting of the Chief Secretary (Chairman), the Principal Secretary for Home, and the Law Secretary. The Review Committee is to go into orders passed by the competent authority (not below the rank of Secretary in the Home Department) authorising interception of wire, electronic or oral communication (Section 14) or that of an officer not below the rank of Additional Director-General of Police (who issues orders in emergency situations).

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