The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Eyes on South, ears for Left

New Delhi, Sept. 17: Two days before the Prime Minister flies out of the country, he made it a point to ensure not to leave ruffled feathers back home among allies.

In deference to the sentiments of the Congress' southern allies, the cabinet repealed the Prevention of Terrorism Act and declared Tamil a 'classical' language. Heeding the Left's opposition, it kept a decision on raising foreign investment ceilings in key industries pending.

The DMK had wanted Tamil to be given 'classical' language status while the MDMK, whose leader Vaiko was jailed under the anti-terror act, had demanded repeal of the law.

Home minister Shivraj Patil announced two ordinances, one repealing the anti-terror law and the other incorporating amendments to the existing Unlawful Activities Prevention Act to define terrorism, make financing of terrorism a serious offence and give evidentiary value to electronic interceptions.

Under the repeal ordinance, review committees will be created to examine all the pending 344 cases and introduce a sunset clause that will bar filing chargesheets under the act after one year from the date of repeal. Absconders caught after this deadline will have to be charged under ordinary criminal law.

Patil acknowledged the home ministry had opted for a 'milder' definition of terrorism in the new law. Officials said there were primarily two deviations in view of misuse.

Expression of support for terrorists will not be considered an offence unless there is intent to facilitate terrorists, an amendment prompted by the Vaiko experience. Besides, possession of arms and explosives will not be enough to invoke the anti-terror law as was done in several cases by the previous Mayavati government.

The BJP reacted sharply, claiming that the decision compromised internal security.

The cabinet kept the CMP promise to create a category of 'classical languages' and simultaneously declared Tamil as the first language to be put in this class. I&B minister S. Jaipal Reddy said the government would consider putting Sanskrit and other languages in this category depending on their 'heritage and legacy'.

An expert committee of the Sahitya Akademi, which had been set up to look into it, has suggested strict criteria for notifying a classical language that requires the language to have a recorded history of at least a thousand years.

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