There was a time in India if someone was indicted under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), then they were sure to rot in a jail for years to come. It goes without saying that TADA did not apply to you, if you were Sanjay Dutt. The Bollywood actor could afford to hire expensive lawyers and take long furloughs to attend discotheques. As for the rest, well their fate was not so rosy: The number of people arrested under TADA had exceeded 76,000, by 30 June 1994. Just about 25 per cent of these cases were dropped by the police without any charges being framed whatsoever. TADA was a hated and widely reviled draconian law. Now the Gujarat government is set to revive it in another form; the Gujarat Assembly on Tuesday passed the landmark Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Bill 2015.
This law has been passed before four times by the Gujarat assembly in the past 12 years. Except that every single time the ruling dispensation-whether it be under Atal Bihari Vajpayee or Manmohan Singh-refused to turn it into law. The Gujarat assembly perhaps hopes that this time around Prime Minister Narendra Modi can help the bill become a law. Among the draconian provisions of the Bill is Clause 16. This clause makes confessions obtained by police officers admissible in court. Consider the Gujarat police and its notorious track record: from 2001 and 2010, Gujarat came in third among states with 134 custodial deaths, thus earning the dubious distinction of being on the nationwide podium when it came to custodial deaths.
The state police is known for its infamous encounter killings and extreme brutality during interrogations. Given this it is a bad idea to make confessions obtained under duress admissible in court. What’s worse the bill allows for evidence collected through the interception of wire, electronic or oral communication to be admissible in court. This provision is disturbing on many levels. Evidence which has been electronically sliced and diced can easily be used to show a convict under trial in a negative light. Moreover it blurs the lines between the state being a democratic state and a full-fledged police state.
If this bill becomes a law, it would end up removing many of the civil liberties enjoyed by the citizens of Gujarat. It would also infringe upon some of the rights guaranteed to them by the constitution. It remains to be seen whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi has the political vision and adeptness to stop this bill from becoming a law.