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Draconian law in Gujarat is on cards
Wednesday October 5, 2016 12:24 PM, Abdul Hafiz Lakhani

Gujarat Anti Terror Bill

The harsh Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime (GCTOC) Bill-2015 is yet to be approved by the President but the state government is already planning another draconian law. It is working on the draft of 'Gujarat Protection of Internal Security Act (GPISA)' which is likely to be tabled in the state assembly in next budget session.If GPISA becomes law, people can be arrested merely because police suspect them to be a threat to internal security. An official of the state home department claimed “the bill will deal with internal security challenges posed by terrorism, insurgency , communalism and even caste violence.“

According to GPISA, internal security is a threat within the state's borders, either caused or provoked, prompted, or by proxies of a hostile foreign power. This is the threat that “causes insurgency , terrorism...animosity between communities and violence.“

Under renamed, it still contains the provisions that had led to its rejection by two Presidents in the past. One such contentious provision is the admissibility of evidence collected through intercepted calls of the accused. This provision empowers the police to intercept calls and admit it as evidence in the court.

Before analyzing the Gujarat government’s position and the effectiveness of a law like this in dealing with terrorism, it may be instructive to look at some of its provisions.

Every offence punishable under this law is cognizable. Anticipatory bail provision is excessively stringent so as to keep the accused behind the bars for a substantial period of time without a trial. Confession made before a superintendent of police is admissible evidence, irrespective of how much an accused is tortured. Valid intercepted communication is also admissible evidence. An accused can be kept in police custody for up to 60 days.

The failure of police to charge sheet the accused does create a technical ground for bail. There will be special courts and special public prosecutors to expedite the trials. The history of the accused shall have a bearing on the evidence against him. Special courts are permitted to have summary trials. Protection of witness and property of the accused will be on a reasonable ground liable to be forfeited. Having gone through some of the main provisions of GUJCOC, one question that comes to mind is “Is GUJCOC an anti-terrorist Act, meant to deal sternly with terrorism?”

The provisions of the forthcoming law are draconian on several counts; they negate the fundamental rights of citizens and go against the grain and spirit of the Constitution of India! The proposals include that:

  • The Government can take action against caste groups, communities promoting ‘sectarian interests’
  • All offences under the new law will be non-bailable.
  • People can be arrested merely on suspicion of being a ‘threat to internal security.’
  • No legal proceedings against security agencies can be initiated for action taken ‘in ‘good faith.’
  • Both public and private establishments can be put under electronic surveillance
  • The Government can create security zones with special policing powers.

In short, the proposed legislation literally suspends all civil rights and gives the police unbridled powers to arrest anyone ‘on suspicion’. Defending the indefensible, an Official from the Home Department of the Gujarat Government recently said, “the bill will deal with internal security challenges posed by terrorism, insurgency, communalism and even caste violence”. This is all very ironic since those responsible for such acts since 2002 in Gujarat, now occupy high positions of power and privilege in the country and are cloaked with apparent immunity.

This is not the first time that the Gujarat Government has attempted to pass such a law. In 2003, when Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister, the State Assembly had passed the terrible ‘Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime (GujCoTOC) bill. Strangely enough it was, the Vajpayee Government that sent it back in 2004 asking for major changes to be made. The Bill was passed later thrice by the State Assembly. Two Presidents, APJ Abdul Kalam (2004) and Pratibha Patil (2008) sent it back to the State Government without giving their assent. In September 2015, the Central Government under PM Modi cleared another version of the GujCoTOC. President Pranab Mukherjee’s approval did not seem forthcoming; finally, at the end of January 2016, the Union Home Ministry withdrew this controversial anti-terror Bill.

Draconian laws are not new to Modi and his ilk. In March 2003, as the CM of Gujarat he also introduced the ‘Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act’ – which makes it mandatory for permission from the civil authority before one can embrace another religion. Inspite of his tall claims of ‘religious freedom’ in India – he has not withdrawn this anti-Constitutional law to date.

It is evidently clear that GPISA is designed to stifle dissent, to choke human rights defenders and anyone else who demand their legitimate and democratic rights. From the Gujarat Carnage of 2002 Gujarat is on the boil: every effort has been made to crush the minorities; land and livelihood has been snatched from the poor and the marginalized – be it the small farmers or the ordinary fishermen. Big Corporations have profited immensely from this injustice. The patidars, the dalits, the safai karmacharis, the adivasis have all been on the receiving end in Gujarat.

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