Calcutta, Aug. 23: The government has decided to amend the West Bengal Correctional Services Act to bar people having links with terror outfits from getting political prisoner status.
The amendment, scheduled to be tabled during Tuesday’s Assembly session, also seeks to disallow those involved in regional, communal, linguistic and caste-based agitations from applying for the tag, Writers’ sources said.
The government is expected to push through the amendment given Trinamul’s strength on the floor of the House.
“The government wants to amend the existing law. Once the amendment is made, those connected to terrorist organisations cannot be equated with persons who strive to achieve political goals through a democratic process in a lawful manner,” an official said.
Earlier, if any person charged with murder or waging war against the state could prove that the crime was not the outcome of personal greed, he could apply for the status of political prisoner.
“The amendment tries to address this anomaly, which was pointed out by the Centre,” the official said.
He said the main aim of the proposed amendment was to tighten the noose around Maoists. Over 700 Maoist activists and sympathisers are lodged in various jails across the state. Some of them, including PCPA spokesperson Chhatradhar Mahato, enjoy the political prisoner status.
In the past few months, a few other Maoist activists and sympathisers have filed pleas in courts seeking the tag.
The West Bengal Correctional Services Act allows facilities such as books, newspapers, writing pads and pens to political prisoners. They are also given separate cells, cots and mosquito nets.
Although the government is trying to act tough against Maoists, it is yet to implement a proposal from the Centre to ban the CPI (Maoist). “The Maoists have been lying low for some time, but there are intelligence inputs that the rebels are trying to regroup inJungle Mahal. By bringing this amendment, the government is trying to send the signal that it will take stern action against Maoists and their sympathisers,” an official said.
The government’s decision drew criticism from the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights. “We will build up protests across the state,” said Ranjit Sur of the APDR.
“Mamata Banerjee had promised to release all political prisoners if she came to power. Now, she wants to take away the political prisoner status accorded to Maoists,” he added.
According to sources in the home department, a number of factors prompted the government’s decision. “We have observed that arrested Maoists are taking advantage of the status to engage in subversive activities,” an official said.
Special Task Force (STF) sources said incriminating documents were found in the possession of three city committee members of the CPI (Maoist) arrested recently.
“We found letters that were written by Maoists from jail. Since the jailed rebels with political prisoner status get writing pads and pens, they easily communicate with their counterparts. The amendment will stop it,” an STF officer said.
Then: Ambiguity in
the act because if any person charged with murder or waging war against the state could prove that the crime
did not involve personal greed, he could apply for the status of
plan Now: Any member or
supporter or person having
any involvement with any
organisation which is either
proscribed or is an organisation classified or declared to be a
terrorist organisation or similar
organisation under any law for the time being in force, shall not be classified as political prisoner