At a meeting ? where the ministries of home, external affairs and law insisted on stringent provisions to combat terrorism ? a ?tentative? consensus was reached to retain in the new law two controversial clauses of the lapsed Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act.
The two provisions relate to confession and bail. Under the old Act, confession made to a police officer was admissible as evidence. Human rights activists had alleged that this would encourage the police to resort to torture for extracting confessions.
On bail, the law said if the prosecutor opposed the plea of an accused, it would not be granted.
Most participants at the meeting today wanted to retain the two provisions in the new Act.
The only ?human touch? in the new law is a provision on burden of proof. The draft stipulates that the onus will be on the prosecution to prove the offence. In the old Act, the accused had to prove his innocence.
Law Commission chief Justice Jeevan Reddy, who chaired the meeting, said: ?Several provisions contained in the Bill correspond to one or the other provision in Tada whose validity has been upheld by the Supreme Court.
?But the only safeguard or human face now suggested by us (the commission) is that the lawyer of the accused would be present from day one. During interrogation, extracting a confessional statement and till the case is over the accused is entitled to have a lawyer.?
The meeting also threw up a surprise with the National Human Rights Commission representatives ? former chief justice J.S. Verma and former acting CBI chief D.R. Karthikeyan ? making an impassioned appeal for enactment of a law along the lines of Tada.
While Verma sought to implement suggestions by the Supreme Court, which had tried several Tada cases, Karthikeyan said: ?In the name of human rights, we cannot turn a Nelson?s eye to terrorism-related problems.?
The meeting agreed to make the new legislation a ?separate Act and not the criminal law amendment? as suggested by the Law Commission.
Advocating retention of several harsh provisions, Shiv Basant, joint secretary (home), said: ?Indian courts are capable of tackling misuse of the law.?
The law ministry representative said they had nothing more to suggest other than ?stringent measures?.
Justice Reddy told The Telegraph that there would be a few more meetings before anything was finalised. However, police sources said: ?The law is a reality now.?
Spurred by Suraj Kali, around 50,000 landless Kol labourers rose in rebellion and ?captured? 15 stone and silica mines.
The tribals, who live in this village about 60 km from Allahabad, have been demanding mining contracts from Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh, an influential landlord. The raja, whose mother, Maharani Rajendra Kumari Ba, received the mining lease for 46 villages in 1947, has sublet his mines to contractors. The Kols are hired by these contractors.
??No one will shape our destiny. Our names are not on voters? lists. We are tortured by contractors and the raja, despite his promises, has not given us mining contracts,?? says Nankali, an articulate Kol woman of Garwaha village.
After pleading with the raja for about a year, the tribals lost patience. Egged on by Suraj Kali, who, with other women labourers, has formed a ??self-help?? group, they decided to capture the mines.
??Operation Kabja?? took off on the intervening night of December 9 and 10. Kol groups led by representatives of Sankalp, an NGO, stormed the mines with pickaxes, shovels and spades (some even carried bows and arrows) and started digging and cutting stones. The operation was, however, confined to 15 of the 46 villages.
In a counter-attack early next day, the raja?s men ousted the rebels from eight mines.
Careful not to let the situation snowball, the administration held talks with the Kols instead of trying to force them out. District magistrate Alok Tandon said that after ??pleading?? with the Kol leaders, the tribals stopped work in 10 of the 15 mines. But they are still holding on to five, he added.
Jhallar, a tribal leader from Garwaha, said: ?We wanted to set ourselves free from centuries of bondage. We have been deprived of minimum wages and are steeped in debt. All we asked for is that instead of being slaves of contractors, we should get direct contracts from the maharaja. Even that was denied.??
He described the uprising as historic because this was, arguably, the first time that landless tribals of Uttar Pradesh had rebelled against a landlord.
A Kol family of five earns around Rs 250 for mining one tractor-trolley of silica for a contractor. If they had their own contract, it would fetch Rs 650. Similarly, for cutting one lorry of stone chips, a family gets Rs 300 from a contractor. They would get Rs 1,200 if they had a direct contract.
Some families are not even paid according to these rates and get a paltry Rs 20-35 per day for men and Rs 15-25 for women, way below the minimum daily wage of Rs 60 for both men and women.
The Allahabad administration woke up to the appalling working conditions after Amar Saran, an advocate who has formed a Bonded Labour Vigilance Committee, filed a petition in August 1998. Cases were registered against the raja and a few contractors who retaliated by forcing some tribals out of their villages.
Mahendra Pratap Singh, however, dismissed the charges as ??hogwash??. Sitting in his sprawling bungalow in the heart of Allahabad, the raja, a former BJP member, said: ??The tribals are at the mercy of certain vested interests. In any case, it is for me to decide what to do with my lease.??
The raja said it was ??unfortunate?? that the Kols had stormed the mines as he had given out contracts to a few tribals. Claiming that he has the tribals? well-being on his mind, he said: ??If I were the typical feudal landlord, as I am made out to be, my men would have gone and forcibly evicted the tribals.??
Transport minister Subhash Chakraborty, credited with drawing up the dissent agenda, could not attend the meeting with Basu as he was in Delhi. But in the capital, he called on party general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet. Later, a smug Subhash said: ?We discussed the party programme.?
By the time the dissidents showed signs of yielding to Basu?s peace formula, they had brought into focus a string of political, organisational and moral issues dogging the CPM. The party leadership has been trying to bury them in ideological rhetoric.
During the hour-and-fifteen-minute meeting at his Salt Lake residence, Basu was mildly critical of former MP Saifuddin Chowdhury and the party?s South 24-Parganas district secretary, Samir Putatunda, for going public with their views. The rebels, however, touted the meeting as a measure of respectability for their campaign.
?The meeting went off well, actually very well,? Chowdhury said. ?We were delighted to find that the issues we were trying to raise are weighing on his (Basu?s) mind, too. He is a practical man. We assume all serious and concerned CPM leaders are as much seized of the same issues.?
Basu, however, declined to elaborate on the meeting. ?They came and met me, but what transpired cannot be shared with the media because it concerns only our party,? he said. But the chief minister praised Subhash.
Both Chowdhury and Putatunda, who are believed to be representing a large group of like-minded CPM functionaries, explained why they had launched their campaign.
The leaders underscored how the leadership?s outdated outlook, orthodoxy, lack of foresight and constant tinkering with the careers of elected representatives had harmed the communist movement.
??I still do not know why I was dropped from the Central Committee in 1995,?? Chowdhury said, while elaborating on the absence of party democracy. ??You are telling me to air my views in party conferences, but how do I do that? I do not know which conference to go to,?? he said.
Last week, almost emulating the rebels in the Congress, their ideological foe, Chowdhury and his comrades had jolted the CPM by triggering the debate on issues ranging from democracy to the lack of growth of the party outside Bengal, Kerala and Tripura.
In a bid to rein in the dissidents, Basu urged them ??not to take any step that might jeopardise the party, and consequently, harm the interests of secular and progressive forces as well as the poor, and strengthen the hands of our enemies??. Both leaders assured Basu they would not strike any deal with the CPM?s rivals.
Observers said the dissidents have scored a victory of sorts by making Basu listen to their grievances. Besides, they have succeeded in spreading the view that the CPM, like the Congress, is run by a coterie of leaders from Delhi who are not accountable to the people as they do not have to face the electorate.
For example, though the CPM lives off the party?s fortunes in Bengal, Politburo members like Sitaram Yechury and Prakash Karat tell the state unit how to function.
A section of the party, however, believes that by agreeing to meet the rebels, Basu has indirectly encouraged factionalism. ??There are so many dissidents. Will it be possible for a person of Basu?s stature to hear out every one of them?? asked a leader.