The Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Bill (GCTOC) has now become law after it received President Ram Nath Kovind’s assent, 16 years after its first version was passed by the Gujarat Assembly. Under this Act, confessions before the police are admissible as evidence and the investigation period or the period of filing an FIR has been extended from 90 to 180 days.
The new law defines a terrorist act as “an act committed with the intention to disturb law and order or public order or threaten the unity, integrity and security of the state”, apart from economic offences. Economic offences include ponzi schemes, extortion, land grabbing, contract killings, cyber crimes, human trafficking, multi-level marketing schemes and organised betting.
The Bill was first introduced in the Gujarat Assembly in 2003 by then Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Then called the Gujarat Control of Organised Crime (GUJCOC) Bill, it was returned by three successive Presidents: A P J Abdul Kalam, Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee.
After it was passed for the first time, the Bill was returned in 2004 by President Kalam who objected to provisions relating to the interception of communication. In 2008, President Patil returned it over provisions on confessions made to a police officer. After this, when some changes were made to the Bill and it became GCTOC in 2015, President Mukherjee did not give his assent seeking some clarifications on the provisions.
When President’s assent is needed
In most terror cases, investigations are carried out under both central and state laws, which can sometimes come into conflict. This is where Presidential assent guided by Article 254(2) of the Constitution comes into play.
According to the provisions of this Article, in case a state law clashes with an earlier or existing law made by Parliament, the law made by the legislature of the state prevails, provided it has received the President’s assent. This is so, “provided that nothing in this clause shall prevent Parliament from enacting at any time any law with respect to the same matter including a law adding to, amending, varying or repealing the law so made by the Legislature of the State”.
The Gujarat anti-terror law is not the only one that did not or has not got the President’s assent. A Bill by Madhya Pradesh is yet to get approval. The Karnataka Control of Organised Crime Bill, now a law, was not granted approval for amendments in 2009. After the Andhra Pradesh Control of Organised Crime Act (APCOCA) lapsed, the state government sought to reintroduce the law in 2006 but it did not get the President’s assent.
Among state laws that did get Presidential assent, the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) was the first. Enacted in 1999, it was extended to the National Capital Territory in 2002 by the Home Ministry. Then came Karnataka’s Bill, passed in 2000. In 2006, the Chhattisgarh Vishesh Jan Suraksha Adhiniyam (Special Public Security Act), 2005 received the President’s assent.
Central laws against terror
The first legislative effort by the Union government to define and counter terrorist activities in India was the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987. It was formulated with the backdrop of militancy in Punjab. Criticised by various human rights organisations and political parties, TADA was allowed to lapse in 1995.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), 2002, came in the wake of the 1999 IC-814 hijack and 2001 Parliament attack. Under its provisions, a suspect could be detained for up to 180 days by a special court. The Act was repealed in 2004, after reports of misuse by some state governments surfaced.
Before these laws, the only legal framework against terrorist activities was the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, which was amended in 2004, 2008 and most recently, in 2012. The definition of “terrorist act” was expanded to include offences that threaten economic security, counterfeiting Indian currency, and procurement of weapons, etc.
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