The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Terror law substitute with a human face

New Delhi, Aug. 23: The home ministry is working on a package that will not only add teeth to the born-again successor to the controversial terror-buster law but also put in place checks to prevent police from invoking the substitute indiscriminately.

Home minister Shivraj Patil is expected to seek amendments to the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, promulgated in 1967, when he moves Parliament to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act also known as Pota, a BJP brainchild that has drawn charges of misuse against the minority community.

Patil will seek Parliament’s sanction to give the vintage law more powers to deal with terrorists, but stress will be laid on ensuring that the provisions are not misused.

The government intends to do away with stringent provisions in Pota, which made bail almost impossible.

Under the anti-terror law, if the prosecutor opposes bail, the judge can overrule him only if there are grounds to believe that the accused is innocent.

The replacement law will also exclude provisions that allowed a confession statement made before a police officer to be admitted as evidence before a court of law. The law will not deviate from the principle of criminal jurisprudence in India that requires the state to prove the charge against the accused beyond reasonable doubt.

Patil has described this deviation in Pota as one of the major reasons why the UPA government intended to abolish it.

The government is beginning to acknowledge that the anti-terror law was misused because policemen classified crimes that could have been dealt with under normal rules as acts of terrorism for easy prosecution and custody.

As the government works on the finer details of amendments to the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, the guiding principle has been to take away the incentive from policemen in the field to invoke the law against common criminals and gangsters.

A note recently prepared by the home ministry for the government made it clear that amendments planned by the ministry were largely aimed at fulfilling India’s obligations under the post-9/11 UN Security Council resolutions.

But the refurbished law will borrow a few provisions from Pota. It will incorporate a country-neutral definition of terrorism, besides empowering the central government to proscribe Indian as well as foreign terrorist organisations.

Under Pota, India had opted for a wide definition of a terrorist act — “any action with the intent... to strike terror in the people...” — to enable the government to take action against a member of a foreign terrorist group even if the suspect had not committed an offence in the country.

It was by virtue of this “country-neutral” definition of terrorism that the Indian government has proscribed al Qaida, though not a single case has been recorded here that counts the outfit or its members among the accused.

An international concern that this seeks to take care of is that if Delhi comes across someone raising funds for al Qaida or information about the presence of an al Qaida member, the government should be able to book him under this law.

The focus on safeguards also reflects a realisation among home ministry officials that the much-touted anti-terrorism law has not entirely served its purpose since its debut almost three years ago.

Only 10 states and Union territories have so far invoked the terror-buster law. Even more telling is the rate of convictions: four cases in Delhi and one in Jharkhand.

By the end of July this year — when the ministry last collected information from the states — nearly 573 people picked up under the law were in detention and 388 on bail.

Nearly 500 people accused under the law are estimated to be on the run.

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