The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Anti-terror law review panel set up

New Delhi, March 13: The political fallout of the slapping of the anti-terror law on Raja Bhaiyya by Mayavati in Uttar Pradesh and on Vaiko by Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu has forced the Centre to sit up and act.

The government today announced the setting up of a review committee to ensure that the anti-terror legislation is not misused.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani told the Lok Sabha that former Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court Arun Saharya would head the review committee. The deputy Prime Minister clearly spelt out the committee’s work in a written statement.

“The review committee will take a comprehensive view of the use of this legislation in various states and give its findings and suggestions for removing the shortcomings in the implementation of this law with a special reference to ensuring that the provisions of the Act are invoked for combating terrorism and not used against ordinary criminals or those who are not terrorists or whose acts cannot be considered terrorist acts,” said Advani.

The terms and conditions of the committee will be laid down and its other members will be chosen soon, Advani said. However, the BJP leader did not give a timeframe.

Explaining the government’s position during clarifications in the Rajya Sabha, Advani said the anti-terror law “is not intended to substitute the ordinary criminal law, it is intended only for terrorist activities”.

After the attack on Parliament, the government, which was considering a new law to replace the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act, pushed through the anti-terror legislation as an essential instrument to combat terrorism.

In the face of resistance from not only the Opposition, but also several allies, the Bill was bulldozed through in a rare joint session of Parliament as the ruling coalition did not have the requisite numbers to get the legislation passed in the Upper House.

Most members of Parliament had warned against the law’s misuse by parties in power.

During the debate in the House, Vaiko, an NDA ally, had vociferously backed the law. A CPM member had then prophetically warned that one day he could find himself behind bars under the new law. Not long afterwards, Jayalalithaa had Vaiko arrested under the law on charges of backing the LTTE, a banned outfit. The DMK and MDMK have been fighting for a review committee ever since.

Uttar Pradesh legislator Raja Bhaiyya’s arrest under the law had sparked a political furore because, despite his criminal record, the MLA was seen as a Thakur being persecuted by a Dalit administration.

The state BJP unit is worried about the repercussions of this arrest on its Thakur supporters.

The Centre’s decision to announce the review committee was meant to signal to all state governments that the anti-terror legislation is primarily targeted at terrorists and should not be used for anything else as criminal laws are sufficient to deal with other law and order problems.

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