Sixteen years after the first version of it was passed by the Gujarat Assembly, the Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Bill (GCTOC) has finally become law. Gujarat Minister of State for Home Pradeepsinh Jadeja announced that the legislation had received President Ram Nath Kovind’s assent, adding, “Today the dream of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been fulfilled.”
Under the most controversial provision in the Bill, investigating agencies can intercept “oral, wire or electronic conversations” and submit them as evidence in court. Introduced for the first time when Modi was Gujarat chief minister, in 2003, as the Gujarat Control of Organised Crime (GUJCOC) Bill, it was thrice returned by successive Presidents earlier.
In March 2015, the Gujarat Assembly passed the legislation again, with a few changes, as the GCTOC Bill, which has now been cleared by the President. The new legislation defines ‘terrorist acts’, as including “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.
The GCTOC’s provisions for admitting evidence collected through interception in courts are exactly like the Centre’s UAPA. The MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act), on which the GCTOC is modelled, also allows collection of such evidence but after various checks.
What makes it stringent
Under GUJCOC, investigating agencies can submit intercepted communication as well as confessions made before a police officer as evidence in court. The use of these controversial provisions, which had led to three Presidents sending back the legislation, would now be watched. The repealed POTA had a similar provision on confessions.
The rest of the provisions in the GCTOC and MCOCA, regarding custodial interrogation, bail to accused and extended time for filing chargesheet (up to 180 days), are the same.
Noting that after Maharashtra’s MCOCA, Gujarat had now got the GCTOC, Jadeja said, “One of the good provisions of this law is that intercepted communication will now be considered legitimate evidence… Confessions made before a police officer will also be considered as evidence.”
Civil rights organisations have been opposing this provision of “voluntary confessions” as violative of fundamental rights of an accused. POTA, the repealed Central law, also had a similar provision.
Tapping of communication and confessions before police officials were the two issues on which Presidents in the past had raised objections to the Gujarat Bill.
The GUJCOC Bill was first returned to Gujarat in 2004, by then President A P J Abdul Kalam, who objected to provisions related to interception of communications. When the state again passed the Bill in 2008, then President Pratibha Patil returned it, over provisions on confessions made to a police officer.
The Gujarat government revived the Bill in 2015, with changes that included adding ‘terrorism’ to the name of the original legislation and specifying that confessions made to an officer of the rank of Superintendent of Police (SP) or above would only be admissible in court. Then President Pranab Mukherjee (under the NDA II government), however, returned the legislation again, seeking clarifications on some provisions.
The GCTOC’s definition of ‘terrorist act’ is “an act committed with the intention to disturb law and order or public order or threaten the unity, integrity and security of the State or to strike terror in the minds of the people or any section of the people by doing an act using bombs, dynamite or any other explosive substance or inflammable material or firearms or other lethal weapons or poison or noxious gases or other chemicals or any other substance (whether biological or otherwise) hazardous in nature in such a manner so as to cause or likely to cause death or injury to any public functionary or any person or loss due to damage or destruction of property or disruption of any supplies or services essential to the life of the community or detains any person and threatens to kill or injure such person in order to compel the State Government to do or abstain from doing any act”.
The economic offences the GCTOC covers include ponzy schemes, multi-level marketing schemes, and organised betting. It also includes extortion, land grabbing, contract killings, cyber crimes, and human trafficking.
Anyone conspiring or attempting to commit, as well as advocating and abetting, any offence under it can invite a term of not less than five years going up to life. Offences resulting in death of a person are punishable by death or imprisonment for life.
Apart from allowing authorities up to 180 days to file a chargesheet (instead of the usual 90), the GCTOC proposes stricter conditions for bail.
“The law will help put a full stop to terrorist activity in Gujarat and help safeguard the 1,600 km of sea coast… This law will give more powers to police officials,” Minister Jadeja, adding special courts will be created to try cases under the new law.
The MCOCA had been enacted in 1999 to control rising organised crimes like extortion, abduction, murders by gangs in Maharashtra, and specifically mentioned ‘pecuniary benefits’ arising from offences. Among its most significant provisions was the admissibility of confession by an accused in police custody and of evidence collected through interception, and 180 days’ time for a chargesheet. The Act also made it difficult for an accused to get bail pending trial.
The Act faced legal scrutiny when a special court ruled it could not be applied to terror activities as these were not aimed at pecuniary gains as defined in the MCOCA. The Supreme Court, however, upheld the Bombay High Court’s 2015 order stating the law could be applied to terror.