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How hooch tragedy has brought stringent PCOCA back under spotlight

KANCHAN VASDEV explains the law and why it is controversial.

Written by Kanchan Vasdev | August 7, 2020 12:28:42 am
punjab hooch tragedy, amarinder singh, Punjab Control of Organised Crime Act. PCOCA, punjab hooch tragedy deaths, indian express news PCOCA returned to spotlight after Jails Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa raised it in the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday. (Representational)

Two years after the Congress government in the state put in cold storage the Punjab Control of Organised Crime Act (PCOCA), the law is again in focus with a few Cabinet ministers demanding that the law be passed to rein in organised crimes like spurious liquor trade. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has now directed the Cabinet Sub-Committee to submit its report.

What is PCOCA and why is it considered ‘draconian’?

The PCOCA is a more stringent version of the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), which provides for a confession statement made before a DIG-rank officer to be admissible in the court. The Punjab’s law provides for the confessional statement to be ratified by an ADGP-rank officer. PCOCA is termed “draconian” by the politicians as it provides for detention without bail for a year while MCOCA provides for detention for not more than six months.

Why was it put in cold storage?

Local Bodies Minister Brahm Mohindra, who was the head of Cabinet Sub-Committee constituted by the CM to study PCOCA and give a report, told the CM in the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday that the law was aimed at reining in the gangsters. With Punjab Police having been able to neutralise many gangsters, the Cabinet Sub-Committee thought that it was not needed anymore. A number of ministers have been privately opposing it stating that it made the police more powerful, adding that the law could be misused as a tool to settle scores in case of political vendetta and political leaders will be at the receiving end. While Haryana enacted a similar law last year, Punjab had forgotten about it.

Why is the spotlight back on PCOCA?

PCOCA returned to spotlight after Jails Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa raised it in the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday. The Cabinet was discussing hooch tragedy and Amarinder wanted the hooch traders booked under Section 302 IPC for murder. Randhawa then said a law like PCOCA should be passed by Punjab to deal with such criminals as well as gangsters. Randhawa has been a votary of the law as he is a jails ministers and a number of gangsters are lodged in jails across Punjab. He has been seeking from Union Home Minister that the gangsters should be sent to jails in other states to break their nexus with other gangsters, drug peddlers and Khalistani elements.

When was PCOCA conceived?

PCOCA was conceived by former DGP Suresh Arora during previous SAD-BJP regime in the state. At that time gangsters were an issue in the state and to rein them in, Arora had proposed PCOCA. The then Home Minister Sukhbir Badal had agreed but the previous government stopped short of passing it after then Cabinet ministers raised aspersions that it could be used against them as the state was facing elections in 2017.

Amarinder had then favoured PCOCA and after taking over, the draft was taken up in the Cabinet meeting in April 2017. But several ministers opposed it. Amarinder had then constituted a Sub Committee of the Cabinet to decide the way forward.

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