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Gujarat assembly passes controversial anti-terror bill amid protests
Tuesday March 31, 2015 11:16 PM, IANS

Amid strong protests and a walkout by the opposition Congress, the Gujarat legislative assembly on Tuesday passed the controversial 12-year-old anti-terror and anti-organised crimes bill for the fourth time.

The proposed law, intended to combat terror and organised crimes in the state, has been hanging fire since 2003 when it was propounded by then home minister Amit Shah, now the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president, during the tenure of former chief minister Narendra Modi, now the prime minister.

The bill has always managed a smooth sailing in the assembly owing to the ruling BJP's strong majority, but was not given assent by the president thrice in the past.

It was sent back first by the then president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in 2004 during the tenure of the NDA's central government headed by then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The amended version of the bill was also rejected in 2008 by then president Pratibha Patil during the UPA-I government, and later by the state governor, preventing it from becoming a law.

"This law is the need of the hour. Not just terrorism, but even organised crimes need to be dealt with firmly," Minister of State for Home Rajni Patel said in the assembly while moving the bill on Tuesday.

Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil raised strong objections pointing out that despite reservations from former presidents of India, no changes have been made in the bill.

"The government is playing vote bank politics... It has merely changed the nomenclature... The (bill) content remains unchanged... The government has not even heeded to the technical issues we have raised regarding the bill," Gohil said, staging a walkout from the house.

Named the Gujarat Control of Terrorism & Organised Crime Bill (GCTOC), it is designed on the lines of the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), and the new version comes with some amendments.

However, it still vests too much power with police, including authority to intercept phone calls with recordings admissible as evidence in court, according to critics and rights activists.

The other provisions include confessions made before senior police officers as permissible evidence before courts. This, activists warn, could result in custodial torture or coercion to make statements which can be held against the suspects.

Another provision allows custody of suspects for 30 days instead of the present 15 days, and if the public prosecutor seeks, police can get up to six months (180 days) to file the charge sheet, up from the existing 90 days. This can pose immense harassment, warn critics.

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