OPINION

Gujarat must give up terror bill

Gujarat should give up its persistent efforts to get the controversial Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Bill, 2015, approved by the President. First moved by Narendra Modi in 2003 when he was Chief Minister of the State, the Bill has been facing objections on the ground that it contains some draconian provisions. The Centre refused to clear the Bill three times when the United Progressive Alliance was in power. The Union Home Ministry has now recalled the Bill from the office of the President, to whom it had been sent for assent. The reason appears to be that it wants the Bill to be reworked based on additional inputs from the State government. The controversial nature of the GCTOC Bill became apparent after A.P.J. Abdul Kalam as President objected to a clause that made evidence based on interception of communication admissible in court. His successor, Pratibha Patil, too declined assent. In March 2015, the Assembly passed the Bill and sent it afresh to the Centre for presidential assent. The Centre ultimately prevailed in having the clause that permitted the State Home Secretary to authorise the interception of telephone calls on his own dropped. Under the Indian Telegraph Act, State Home Secretaries do authorise telephone taps, but using power delegated to them by the Centre. The watered-down Bill was sent last September to the President for his assent. It has been recalled now, possibly because of fears that President Pranab Mukherjee might refuse assent again.

India’s repeated experiments with anti-terrorism laws have been, by and large, unsuccessful. The Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1985, a law considered as draconian as the Rowlatt Act of the colonial era, and its latter-day version, the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2003, had been allowed to lapse after it was found that they were prone to persistent misuse. However, with the substantive amendments made to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in 2012, the country does have an effective law to curb modern-day terrorism. The Gujarat law is modelled on the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, but that does not make it any more acceptable. The Maharashtra law itself has not achieved any remarkable success in curbing organised crime. When it was invoked recently in a cricket spot-fixing case in Delhi, it failed miserably during trial, demonstrating how such laws can be reduced to a mockery through improper application. The GCTOC Bill also has provisions similar to earlier anti-terrorism laws, such as making confession to a police officer of the rank of Superintendent of Police admissible in court, and allowing 180 days, instead of the usual 90, for the filing of a charge sheet. There is really no need for more State-level laws of such a nature. Police investigators need better resources and training to combat organised crime and terror, and not laws that abridge and modify conventional criminal procedure to the detriment of human rights.