Anti-terror laws explained
May 21, 2008
A couple of days ago, Bangladesh(!) passed an anti-terror law giving immense powers to the police to tackle terrorism. The BJP has repeated its demands for the anti-terror law and the congress has slipped into silence. Deja Vu!
Some of my own friends were asking me why I was supporting the laws which were against Muslims. I was too surprised at their ignorance to laugh at that time, so I came back and wrote this post.
First, the anti-terror laws are considered a western method of handling terror attacks. This is not only untrue, it is irrelevant. The western countries, North American, South American and European are not in the terror belt. Their anti-terror laws are against an eventuality. India and other sub continent are in the very active belt of terrorism, the terror laws here are against certainty of having to use them. The potently dangerous mixture of Islam with Illiteracy and poverty is found here giving room for straying into terrorism. India has its own set of special problems with a number of separatist groups, Nepal and China funded naxals and maoists, and other groups in the past like the Khalistan rebels and LTTE rebels. While Bangladesh also faces the brunt of terrorism, India faces it more severely and much more. India is also one of the worst affected apart from Iraq. Pakistan, Indonesia, Japan, Australia, China have all their anti-terror laws in place.
Why special laws, what about existing laws? Identified conviction rate in the country is 40%, while the conviction rate for murder is as low as 6.5%. So there is as much as 93% chance that you may get away with murder if you committed it. Apart from that, it provides the police with the possibility of producing evidence that may be inform of a confession or intercepted from radio sources etc. which are not normally permitted. The law names prevention of terrorism act, is actually preventive in nature. The law gives power to police to be able to prevent acts of terror. Currently a very modified form of the law is in place called the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act. This law is a very mild version of the POTA, and is quite incapable of dealing with terror severely.
Can that not be misused? Everything can be misused. The TADA was also supposedly misused, this matter was brought to court, some safe guards were then recommended. Those safeguards have been incorporated into the POTA. These include,
- Investigation of an offense under the Act is to be done by an officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police.
- No court can take cognizance of an offense under the Act unless sanction of the State.
- The Act provides safeguards against abuse of the provision relating to admissibility of confession made before a police officer. – Confessions made involuntarily fall under this category
- Intimation of arrest of the accused will have to be provided to a family member immediately after arrest and this fact is to be recorded by the police officer.
- Provision for prosecution of police officers for malafide actions under the Act (including rigorous imprisonment upto 2 years) and compensation to affected persons in such cases.
Additionally, Mr. Advani had announced the setting up of a central review committee to take complaints regarding the misuse of the law. The alleged misuse is from the BJP ruled states, however the complaints received were, 40 from TN, 39 from Maharashtra, 28 from Delhi, 26 from UP, 16 from J&K and 15 from Jharkhand. In all of these cases, the central review committee gave its verdict, sometimes in favour of the accused and sometimes in favour of the state. On the contrary, the Pakistani laws against terrorism are rather draconian in comparison. POTA is one of the only anti-terror laws that actually incorporates some safeguards in the interest of people.
Why is the congress opposed to it? The congress does not have a definite vote bank in the Hindus which it can identify with on a national scale (on a state scale, the congress has its own caste political equations). The congress only identifies a vote bank counter to that of the BJP. The BJP which emerged as a Hindu revivalist party may not identify with communal any more but the congress and media have not tired of painting that picture about them. The counter vote bank is that of the minorities. The congress feels that repealing the law will make the Muslims feel secure and the loyalties of the votes would be maintained. That is briefly why the congress is opposed to the law.
But don’t terror attacks happen anyway? Yes they do. POTA is not a magic wand. And its not like what BJP justifies that anti theft laws do not prevent theft from happening anyway. The case is not so trivial. What POTA does is that it gives us a chance to be able to prevent terrorist groups from forming, to break terror networks and to prevent attacks by acting proactively on intelligence. The workings of this are like Heisenberg’s uncertainity principle, if we want more prevention, then more draconian laws and less politics and if we want somewhat reasonable laws then the prevention will be within reasonable limits, which is what POTA enables us to.
The POTA is not an anti-Muslim law, it is in fact a very sensible law. And it should be implemented for all the right reasons.