The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Terror law egg on govt face

New Delhi, Nov. 3: The Vajpayee government, which summoned a joint session of the House to push through the anti-terror law, has been left with egg on its face after Delhi police goofed over telephone-tapping in the Parliament attack case.

A day after the daring December 13 strike, the police had tapped the phones of accused Delhi University lecturer Syed Abdul Geelani and Navjot Sandhu, wife of another suspect Shaukat Hussain, without permission from the home ministry. Phone intercepts are admissible as evidence under the Prevention of Terrorism Act but only after it is sanctioned by higher authorities, in this case the home secretary.

Senior ministry officials are furious that the police overlooked such a crucial detail while probing the first major case under the anti-terror law. (They sought sanction after tapping the phones.)

“It is unfortunate and more care should have been taken,” said an official. “However, as this is the first major trial under Pota, initial teething problems will be there. The police will learn from these mistakes.”

The goof-up, however, lends credence to the Opposition argument that ordinary laws of the land are sufficient to handle all cases, including terrorism, provided the police are careful with their investigations.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani had pushed hard to pass the anti-terror law, insisting that tougher legislation was required to tackle mounting terror strikes from Pakistan. He said most countries, including the US, Britain and France, had brought in new legislation after the September 11 strikes.

But human rights groups and NGOs fear that the law can easily be turned into “an instrument of oppression in the hands of a police force under pressure from politicians”.

In sensitive cases like the Parliament attack, where public interest is maximum, the police are likely to slip up under pressure from political bosses to crack the case fast. Facts may be recorded without cross-checking and chances that innocent people may be implicated are high.

Besides, such laws give excessive powers to the police, which could be easily misused. “The very purpose of the anti-terrorist law is defeated in such cases,” a rights activist said.

The BJP government’s embarrassment is heightened by the fact that this law will be the talking point in election campaigns, starting with the Gujarat polls in December. While the BJP will slam the Congress for keeping the law on hold in Kashmir, the Congress might claim that the police are content to hide behind draconian laws instead of going in for back-breaking field investigations.

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