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CRIME AND THE COUNTRY

It is impossible to deny the threat to national security from organized crime such as smuggling of arms, drug-trafficking and the flesh trade. The Vohra Committee,which examined the nexus between crime, politics and the bureaucracy, noted that the absence of proper laws has made it important to have a Central legislation to tackle the menace of organized criminal activity.

At present, a few states like Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh have framed laws to curb crimes of such nature. Similar bills are in the pipeline in states like West Bengal and Arunachal Pradesh, as is a Central legislation dealing with various aspects of organized crime. Sadly, neither the state laws nor the Central measures are adequate.

First, various criminal syndicates have established networks of terror all over the country. The state laws vary from one state to another, and in the absence of a Central act or agency, are likely to generate turf wars between the states. Second, state-level laws have no provisions for extradition or extraterritorial jurisdiction and are therefore more or less ineffectual in many cases.

The existing Central laws suffer from other lacunae. Currently there is no law against contract killing, extortion or kidnapping, which are still prosecuted under the Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code, which have their own limitations.

Legal jumble

The Central laws do not liberalize the definition of abetment, or conspiracy which is crucial worldwide for legislations on organized crime. For example, the IPC requires a person to either engage in a conspiracy, or intentionally aid the act in order to be charged with such crime. This provision makes it difficult to convict the masterminds of major criminal operations. Take Dawood Ibrahim for instance, whose links with the Mumbai blasts are yet to be conclusively established.

Under these circumstances, the need for a Central act becomes all the more important. A good model can be the Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act. MCOCA defines organized crime well and has severe penal provisions, the minimum punishment being five years or rigorous imprisonment. Death penalty can be awarded in cases where death has ensued. The accused, if found guilty, can also be charged a minimum fine of five lakh rupees. The association of a fully aware person with organized crime syndicates, and assistance, financial or otherwise, knowingly or not, is considered as abetment. Accumulation of property for a syndicate is punishable with a prison term of six to ten years, along with forfeiture of property.

Bring in the new

MCOCA has special evidentiary procedure. Disrupting public peace, past criminal records, discovery of circumstantial evidence, confessions to police officers superintendent upwards and telephonic interceptions can be taken as relevant proof for prosecution. Under the act, a person can be kept in unbailable custody for three months without giving the public prosecutor a hearing. The accused can be freed if the judge is satisfied that the person is innocent and will not commit any offence on bail. Anticipatory bail is not allowed.

The MCOCA however suffers from the lack of a provision to protect witnesses, law enforcement personnel and victims. It also allows the witness to conceal his identity which robs the defence of a scope of cross examination. The proposed Central act should not suffer from similar limitations. It must have special provisions for the protection of law enforcement officers and judges from intimidation. Further, the act should facilitate greater participation from victims in the trial process and monetary restitution to the victims at the end of it.

From the political point of view, such a law can be labelled as draconian by human rights organizations. However, one must remember that no law is perfect. The government must show that it has the courage to pass this bill. The security of the country cannot be compromised under any circumstances.

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