The Gujarat Assembly yesterday passed the controversial Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organized Crime (GCTOC) Bill, 2015. The provisions of this anti-terror legislation had previously been rejected by the President twice. This Bill is a reworked version of the Gujarat Control of Organized Crime Bill (GUJCOC), 2003.
A few changes have been incorporated in the 2015 Bill. The Bill however, retains most provisions which had contributed to its infamous image. Such provisions permit intercepted mobile calls of an accused or confessions made before an investigating officer, to be admissible as evidence in a court of law. It proposes that the officer given such a power, should be of the rank of Superintendent of Police and above.
The legislation also makes offences under the Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organized Crime Act, 2015, non-bailable. Clause 20 (4) of the Bill states, “Notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure, no person accused of an offence punishable under this Act shall, if in custody, be released on bail or on his own bond.”
Clause 25 of the Bill provides immunity to the State Government from legal action. It states, “No suit, prosecution or other legal proceeding shall lie against the State government or any officer or authority of the State government for anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done in pursuance of this Act.”
Reasons attributed for the continued attempts to obtain assent for the Bill were explained by Minister of State for Home Rajnikant Patel. He was quoted as saying, “Pakistan cannot win the war against India. We all know about terrorist activities in Pakistan. To protect every single citizen from the bullet of terrorists, we need to strengthen the law."
This is further accentuated by his State of Objects and reasons which says, “It is noticed that organized criminal syndicates make common cause with terrorist gangs and foster macro terrorism, which extends beyond national boundaries. There is a reason to believe that organized criminal syndicates are operating in the state and… there is immediate need to curb their activities.”
"Considering all these facts, then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi introduced the bill but it was rejected by the then UPA government at the centre and now the chief minister Anandiben Patel wants to reintroduce again. Pakistan has become the epicenter of world terrorism that's why this act is necessary for Gujarat. The present laws are not enough to secure safety of six crore people of Gujarat. This law is for the safety of Gujarat and the country. The act is accordance with the constitution and have enough checks to prevent misuse by police," he said.
He added that, "terrorism knows no national boundaries and is fuelled by illegal wealth generation by contract killing, extortion, smuggling in contrabands, illegal trade in narcotics, kidnappings for ransom, collection of protection money economic offence such as running of the ponzi schemes or the multi-level marketing schemes with a view to defraud the people for obtaining the monetary benefits or large scale organized betting in any form, cyber crimes, etc. The illegal wealth and black money generated by organized crime is very huge and has serious adverse effect on economy.
It is noticed that the organized criminals syndicates make a common cause with terrorist gangs and foster macro-terrorism which extends beyond the national boundaries. There is reason to believe that organized criminal syndicates are operating in the state and thus, there is immediate need to curb their activities.''
The Congress abstained from voting on the Bill. According to Congress Abdasa MLA Shaktisinh Gohil, the Bill goes contradicts Centrals laws which do not allow an investigating agency to take confession and use it as evidence. Leader of the Opposition Shankersinh Vaghela said the Bill was “not for protection of the people but for the protection of the BJP”.
The Bill was first introduced in 2003, under the aegis of Narendra Modi. This Bill contained almost the same clauses, increasing the period to file charge sheet from 90 to 180 days, and laying down strict conditions for bail to be given to the accused. President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had then refused to accord assent to the Bill, demanding the provisions relating to interception of communication to be removed.
The Bill was passed by the State Assembly twice after that, both the times with Narendra Modi as the Chief Minister. Once in 2008, without the clause objected to by Kalam. President Pratibha Patil however sought more changes to the Bill and refused to grant assent. She demanded provisions allowing confessions before a police officer as evidence in court to be removed.
Ignoring the President's suggestions, the Gujarat Government cleared the bill for the third time in 2009. This Bill still awaits the President's assent.
Activists are showing strong opposition towards the Bill, terming it as another draconian legislation. “This is an undeclared Emergency intended to muzzle dissent in the State. The government wants to spread fear and terror among activists, NGO workers and civil society persons with its stringent provisions. If there is no bail and period of probe is lengthened, it effectively means that a person can be detained for 180 days merely on the basis of phone records,” Gautam Thaker, general secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Gujarat, told The Hindu.