Human rights activists have slammed BJP lawmakers in Gujarat for passing the draconian anti-terror bill on Tuesday.
“Insane and unnecessary,” said Suhas Chakma, director of the Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights. “Why does Gujarat need such a law. Just because it shares a maritime border with Pakistan? Nothing has happened there in the past five years. It is one of the most peaceful states,” he said.
The Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Bill, 2015 allows for phone conversations intercepted by the police, and confessions made to senior police officers, to be submitted as evidence in court. Activists fear that such provisions are easily abused by the authorities. They are especially concerned about the police using brute force to beat confessions from suspects.
All offences under this bill are non-bailable. Furthermore, the bill increases the police investigation time from 90 days to 180 days during which the suspect languishes in custody.
Section 25 of the Bill makes the government immune from any legal action for "anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done in pursuance of this Act."
The bill, previously called the Gujarat Control of Organised Bill, was introduced in 2003 by then chief minister Narendra Modi, now prime minister. It was first rejected by President APJ Abdul Kalam in 2004 during the NDA government and then by President Pratibha Patil when the UPA government was in power.
Human rights activists also question the need for states to continue piling on Acts when central laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the National Investigation Agency Act, armed with similar draconian provisions, already exist. Other state laws include the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, 1999, Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005, and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), which covers the NorthEast and the state of Jammu and Kashmir, where insurgency continues.
Jayshree Satpute, a human rights lawyer, said that it was "outrageous" that no legal action could be taken against the state of Gujarat. “We must congratulate Gujarat on its own AFSPA,” she said. “This is a reminder to us as human rights lawyers that the fight is very long. Instead of neutralising these laws, we keep adding more of them."
The Bill's 'Statement of Objects and Reason's states, "Organised crime has for quite some years now come up as a very serious threat to our society. With economic progress, Gujarat is facing threat of terrorism and economic offences. Gujarat has a 1600-km sea border and a 500-km land border with Pakistan. The state has witnessed several terrorist attacks."
“It is noticed that the organised criminals syndicates make a common cause with terrorist gangs and foster macro-terrorism which extends beyond the national boundaries. There is reason to believe that organised criminal syndicates are operating in the state and thus, there is immediate need to curb their activities."
The Bill still needs to be cleared by President Pranab Mukherjee. But there are no guarantees that Mukherjee will follow his predecessors in rejecting it.
Saurav Datta, who specialises in the criminal justice reform at the Delhi-based Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, pointed out that it was Mukherjee, who gave his consent for the hanging of Afzal Guru, which was widely regarded as a populist move by the Manmohan Singh government to appear tough on terrorism.
More recently, Datta said, it was Mukherjee who gave his consent to the law banning beef in Mumbai, which had been in “cold storage” for the past two decades. "Mukherjee could give the go ahead. Presidents have their own politics,” he said.