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Alarm bill: why GujCTOC is frightening rights activists, opposition

Rathin Das | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 6:37 IST

The law

  • The Gujarat assembly has passed GujCTOC Bill, 2015
  • APJ Abdul Kalam, Pratibha Patil rejected its earlier in \'04, \'08
  • The Centre has cleared the new bill, it\'s now with the president

The lawlessness

  • It allows arrest on suspicion, use of phone taps as evidence
  • Human rights activists claim it\'ll usher in \'undeclared Emergency\'
  • Activists say it can also increase corruption, criminality in police

Activists and opposition leaders in Gujarat are alarmed. The Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Bill, 2015, they fear, would usher in an "undeclared Emergency".

Not without reason: the bill virtually leaves a citizen's fundamental rights at the mercy of the police's whims and fancies.

It was passed by the assembly in March, on the last day of the budget session amid a walkout by the opposition Congress legislators.

Political parties and human rights activists decried the "draconian" bill but Governor OP Kohli was unmoved and sent it to the Centre, which quickly stamped its approval and sent it to the President for his assent.

It did not bother either the governor or the Centre that the legislation was a rehashed version of the Gujarat Control of Organised Crime Bill, which had been returned by AJP Abdul Kalam and Pratibha Patil in 2004 and 2008. The former presidents had particularly flagged the provisions allowing phone taps and confessions made to the police to be used as evidence in court.

Dangerous territory

The earlier bill was modelled on MCOCA and passed in 2003, and again in 2008, when Narendra Modi ruled Gujarat. And then, as now, it had breezed through amid the opposition's protests and walkout. Every time, the BJP held a brute majority in the assembly.

Rights activists insist the provisions of the 2015 bill, which has incorporated 'terrorism' in the title, are draconian. Worse still, there is no need for such a law when the state isn't facing any terror threat.

Twenty Congress leaders and legislators met President Pranab Mukherjee on 3 October to urge him not to approve the bill.

"We told him this same law under another name was rejected by both Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and Pratibha Patil. Dr Kalam had rejected it when the NDA was ruling at the Centre," recalls Gujarat Leader of Opposition Shankersinh Vaghela.

Who has opposed GujCTOC: Presidents APJ Abdul Kalam, Pratibha Patil, Union IT ministry

"This government is insisting on this law to satisfy its ego and harass citizens who hold different opinions. Please do not sign this bill as it's anti-citizen and against human rights. That's what we told the president."

And what did the president tell them? "He is not expected to say more than 'I will look into the matter'," Vaghela says.

Not just the opposition, even Modi's own IT ministry had objected to the bill allowing phone taps and making them admissible as judicial evidence. The Gujarat government has rejected the criticism.

To blunt this criticism, the Gujarat government amended some provisions in phone tapping clause and resent it to the Centre.

Dire consequences

Phone interception, however, is just one in the laundry list of the legislation's sinister provisions.

It grants the police powers to arrest a person merely on suspicion of being involved in an unlawful activity. Such arrest - so far illegal - can extend up to 180 days, during which time the accused won't be entitled to seek bail.

Activists and criminal lawyers say six months of custody is enough for any innocent person to "confess" to whatever the police want him, particularly if he is also tortured as happens often in such cases.

Shankersinh Vaghela: we told the president this bill is anti-citizen and against human rights

"This law is contrary to the constitution," says Gautam Thaker of the Gujarat chapter of People's Union of Civil Liberties, which has opposed the bill all along.

Some provisions are not only inconsistent with the constitution, he adds, but actually violate it. They also fall foul of the Transfer of Property Act, Indian Evidences Act, CrPC and IPC.

Thaker fears the law would be especially misused against weaker sections of the society, minorities, academics, activists, not unlike earlier draconian laws such as MISA, TADA and POTA, which were eventually scrapped following public outrage.

Indeed, such was the brazen misuse of these laws that over 95% of the people booked under them, largely the poor and minorities, were finally acquitted, Thaker pointed out.

And there is a possibility that the new legislation will not only trample upon the citizen's liberties, but also lead to more corruption among police and other law enforcement agencies, Thaker warns.

"The police can simply detain the state's political adversaries and make them cough up money in order to escape being slapped with this law," he explains.

"Or, the police can go knock on anybody's door and threaten to detain him under this draconian law, under which you can be arrested just on suspicion and held without bail," Thaker adds. "It would be a new method of extortion."

First published: 23 October 2015, 1:13 IST