The Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Bill (GCTOC) 2015 appears to be modelled on the draconian Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), but it goes a step further to include terrorism in its ambit. This may not withstand legal scrutiny — the prerogative to legislate against terrorism, which has been interpreted by the courts as an attack on national sovereignty, lies exclusively with the Centre. Gujarat’s grouse, that other states have been allowed similar laws, may be valid, but the GCTOC resurrects fundamental questions about the state’s approach to fighting crime and, especially, terror.
Anti-terror laws have had an unconvincing — and, in fact, extremely worrisome — record so far. Both TADA, promulgated in the 1980s during the years of the Punjab militancy, and its successor, POTA, had abysmal conviction rates. TADA was allowed to lapse while POTA was withdrawn in 2004 because the government could not make a case for its efficacy in the fight against terror. According to a government estimate, less than one per cent of the accused detained under TADA over a period of eight years were convicted.
The misuse of POTA has been reported in many cases — the Tamil Nadu government booked Vaiko under POTA for supporting the LTTE, an instance of the law being wielded against a political opponent. It has become evident that anti-terror laws serve mostly to give a free hand to the police to book individuals on mere suspicion and keep them in custody for extended periods without accountability. That the police could not eventually obtain convictions in most of the cases questions the basic claim and premise of these laws, that they help bring terrorists to justice and act as a deterrent. State laws like the MCOCA and GCTOC incorporate a provision to allow confessions secured in police custody to be admitted as evidence in courts. This is tantamount to legalising custodial torture, while at the same time encouraging poor, less rigorous policing.
The GCTOC, like the MCOCA, also allows custody of an accused for 180 days, double the period given under the Centre’s Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The overreliance on harsh and restrictive provisions that arbitrarily curtail citizens’ rights only sharpens the fundamental question: Could better results be obtained if law enforcement agencies were provided quality training, equipment, cutting-edge technology, and, most importantly, were better manned?
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines