The state Assembly, on Wednesday, passed a separate law for people indulging in anti-social activities, such as bootlegging, gambling, cow slaughter, drug trafficking, immoral trafficking, human trafficking, sale of spurious drugs, loan sharks, land grabbing, kidnapping, unlawful activities, illegal arms, etc., with a majority vote.
The Bill – the Goonda and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Bill, 2020) – was passed amid opposition from Congress MLAs who alleged that the government was trying to shield its failure in curbing such crimes during its close to 30 years’ rule in Gujarat and to achieve political goals.
The Bill has a provision of maximum punishment of 10 years and minimum fine of Rs 50,000. It also has some stringent provisions such as permission to file chargesheet within 90 days and in special cases, even within 180 days. The Act further gives police permission to have an accused in their custody on remand for 30 days, instead of the regular 15 days.
The Bill was presented in the House by Minister of State for Home, Pradeepsinh Jadeja and its object statement read, “Gujarat state has achieved all round development and emerged as a model for other states to emulate. However, the activities of goondas have the potential to disturb public order and derail the development efforts of the Government of Gujarat. Therefore, there is an urgent need to bring in legislative measures to deal with anti-social activities…”
Jadeja said that the crime rate of Gujarat is low, but the state government has brought the Bill to make the state even more peaceful and send a clear message to goonda elements to “either stop goondagiri or leave Gujarat.”
Jadeja said that the Bill is being introduced to plug holes in existing laws dealing with the offences covered under the Goonda Act. He alleged that unlike the previous Congress governments, the BJP government did not want to give a free hand to criminals. Jadeja said that cases under the Goonda Act will be tried by special courts with special prosecutors. The Act has a provision that the accused’s bail application will not be heard in the absence of a special public prosecutor. Government employees found indulging in such acts or in abetment of such acts will also be imprisoned for a time period between three years and 10 years.
The Act defines a Goonda as, “…a person, who, with the object of disturbing public order or of gaining any undue temporal, pecuniary, material or other advantage for himself or any other person, indulges in any anti-social activity, either singly or in group, by violence, or threat of show of violence or intimidation or coercion.”
As per the Bill, permission of the concerned Range Inspector General of Police or Police Commissioner is mandatory for registering an FIR under the Act. It cannot be investigated by an officer below the rank of police sub-inspector. Further, no special court can take cognizance of the offence without previous sanction of the state government. The Act also has provisions for the protection of witnesses. Jadeja said that the names and addresses of the witnesses will be kept confidential.
Opposition Congress MLAs alleged that the BJP government has failed to effectively implement already available laws to deal with different crimes in the last 30 years of the party’s rule and the Goonda Act was an attempt to hide its failure.
Opposing the Bill, Congress MLA CJ Chavda demanded that current laws should be strengthened instead of bringing a separate legislation. Leader of Oppo-sition Paresh Dhanani also alleged that the government brought the Bill to achieve political goals.The Bill was passed with a majority and replaced an ordinance in that regard promulgated earlier.
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