Junk draconian Gujarat terror bill

The controversial Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Bill, 2015, has rightly been stalled by the President, who wanted some clarifications on some of its provisions. The Union Home Ministry has withdrawn the bill and said that it will submit it again to the President after reworking some provisions. It is surprising that the home ministry of the present and the previous NDA governments and the Gujarat government have so tenaciously persisted with a bill which has been widely seen as illiberal, draconian and unnecessary. Some of its provisions are against the normal rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and enjoyed by citizens. The Gujarat Assembly first passed the bill in 2002 when Prime Minister Modi was the state’s chief minister. Two Presidents – A P J Abdul Kalam and Pratibha Patil – had returned the bill in the past. The Anandiben Patel government again got the bill passed last year and sent it for Presidential assent. But President Pranab Mukherjee has also given the signal that he is not inclined to give it ready assent.

Some provisions of the bill have no place in a normal constitutional system. The bill empowers authorities to intercept phones and other means of personal communications and allows the intercepted communication to be produced as evidence in courts. Confessions before police officers can also be admitted as evidence. The dangerous implications of this provision should be clear to anyone who knows how the police extract confessions from suspects and even innocent people. Bail conditions are extremely difficult. The bill clearly says that the court ‘shall assume, unless the contrary is proved, that the accused has committed such an offence’. This is against the basic principle of law which lays down that an accused is innocent unless proved guilty. It shifts the burden of proof to the accused.

Such laws make the society and the legal system harsh and inhuman. The Gujarat government has tried to justify the law with the argument that the state has a border with Pakistan and is vulnerable to terrorism. This is an inadequate and unconvincing  ground. The state has also pointed out that Maharashtra has a similar law. But the Maharashtra law has not been a success. That should be good enough reason for Gujarat not to have such a law. The Gujarat Police are known for custodial killings and fake encounters. A law like this is bound to be misused by it. Such laws are frequently used against the minorities, dalits and the weaker sections of society. The idea that terrorism can be only fought with stronger and stronger laws is wrong.

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