By Shreyan Acharya, Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies.
India is known to be the largest democracy in the world. It has strongly cherished the principles of secularism in which various religions have been guaranteed their freedom. Today, there is rampant sectarian violence throughout the globe. India has been recently applauded by David Heyman for being able to keep the individuals away from the grip of ISIS influence inspite of having the second largest Muslim population in the world. It is widely believed that atrocities on minority communities is one of the principal reasons for the young mind to be diverted into evil practices. Also, depriving individuals of their personal liberty can result into evil acts. The indication directly goes to the recently passed anti-terror law, Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime (GCTOC) bill, passed by the Gujarat Legislative Assembly.
The bill passed on 31st March, 2015 is now a reality. The Bill, interestingly, is in its fourth avatar, earlier bill had been rejected by the President of India in 2004, 2008 and 2009 respectively. It is the brain child of our current PM Narendra Modi. Except BJP, other parties and social activists have been crying foul that the bill is politically motivated and may subvert the freedoms guaranteed under our Constitution. As the ruling party, BJP is trying real hard to get it passed and implemented throughout the state. The advocates of the bill have emphasised on the threats of various terrorist as well as criminal activties and consider it a right step forward in fighting terrorism and organised crime more seriously than before. The foundation has also been taken from Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), 1999. As the major difference lies in the addition of the word ‘terrorism’ in GCTOC. Gujarat bordering with Pakistan has been considered vulnerable to the cross-border terrorism, smuggling etc. The foundational principle of the bill is to uphold the order and peace in the society.
There are a few objections that mar the bill from its societal acceptance. It is true that any detention law leaves a scar on the society. Few provisions promote police tyranny and abuse of law. The most obnoxious provision is empowering investigating agency to continue investigating for 180 days as against 90 days under Code of Criminal Procedure. During this period, the accused may or may not be in judicial custody. Generally, police custody is for very short period with the prior permission of the Magistrate. The second feature of the bill that has drawn ire is the one which makes a confession made to police officers admissible in evidence something analogous to TADA and POTA’s infamous and extinct provisions, as even the Indian Evidence Act makes it inadmissible, and would contribute to duress and torture. As even the activist feels that the new sanctity accorded to confessions made by to law enforcement by an accused will be grossly abused. The next provision that impairs individual privacy, as it authorises for interception of telephonic conversation and their admissibility in evidence. Government agencies indulge in snooping all the time and may act like watchdogs. The last provision Section 25 of the bill that makes the government immune from any legal action for anything done in good faith makes it more monstrous.
These controversial provisions portray the GCTOC bill as being diabolical and a tool to serve ruling dispensation’s political ends. It is widely accepted that a country must be protected and security of its citizens should be of prime concern, but that does not give the government power to pass arbitrary bills of which the provisions are unfair and preposterous. For a state like Gujarat that had witnessed violence on sectarian grounds a decade ago may by promulgating this bill lead to more tense situation and already discriminated citizens would be more vulnerable to further arbitrary practices.
Recently, under Social Index, India has been ranked 101 among 138 nations, even behind Nepal and Bangladesh. The indicators for measuring this Index were health, education, social inclusion, etc. India being a diverse country with second largest population in the world could not possibly uphold these indicators upto the mark. But, that does not give a right to our legislators to pass such draconian laws which would further worsen the current prevalent situation. The roots of terrorim grow from malnourishment, poverty, lack of education, social exclusion etc., and such laws would further aggravte the misery by arbitrary use of power. Today, widespread injustice, social exclusion and undue use of power has been a major concern in driving the youth, especially from the minority community towards unlawful and terrorist activities. The activists and non-governmental organisations are raising these concerns for the betterment of our nation. They have been emphasising on adopting different ways of tackling such menace such as consultations with parents, psychological therapies etc. The government, must, find more and different ways of handling and preventing such tragic situations. I agree that preventive laws are required to deter terrorism but that does not turn into laws of deterring terror by creating terror.
As discussed earlier, we would need preventive as well as reformative laws which stops terror by not creating it. In my opinion, the prevalent bill needs a reconsideration and must evaluate other ways of preventing it rather than infringing individual freedom and personal liberty which are enshrined as the founding pillars of our constitution.