On Wednesday, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) sent back the controversial Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime (GCTOC) Bill, 2015, to the State government after the Centre, particularly the Ministry of Information and Technology raised certain objections. The bill was passed in March 2015 in the Gujarat Assembly. It was sent for presidential assent since some of the provisions are in contravention of central laws. “Notwithstanding anything contained in the Code or in any other law for the time being in force, the evidence collected through interception of wire, electronic or oral communication under provisions of any other law shall be admissible as evidence against the accused in the Court during the trial,” as per Clause 14 of the Bill. The Information and Technology Ministry at the Centre has objected to this very provision in the Bill.
The clause allows the Gujarat police to record and use telephonic intercepts as evidence. Suffice to say, evidence which has been electronically examined from different viewpoints can easily be used to show a convict under trial in a negative light. The Centre’s move, therefore, must be appreciated, for these provisions amount to violation of key constitutional provisions, despite the State government’s contention that organised criminal syndicates make extensive use of wire and oral communication. Incidentally, the GCTOC Bill happens to be the renamed version of the older Gujarat Control of Organised Crime (GUJCOC) Bill, which failed to get presidential assent thrice. Other controversial provisions of this bill include considering confessions made to police officers as evidence. It also has a provision where the period for filing a charge sheet can be extended to six months and no bail can be obtained by the accused on a personal bond.
It is safe to suggest that there is precedence for such laws in India’s 67-year-old history. Under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), which was in force between 1985 and 1995, the police were not obliged to produce a detainee before a judicial magistrate within 24 hours. In fact, the accused person could be detained up to one year. There is an eerie similarity that exists between Gujarat’s proposed anti-terror law and TADA. Under both laws, a confession made to police officers was admissible as evidence in the court of law, with the burden of proof being on the accused to prove his innocence. It is Clause 16 of GCTOC, which makes confessions obtained by police officers admissible in court.
The Gujarat police’s notorious track record of custodial deaths between 2001 and 2001 does raise alarms about the extraordinary powers the GCTOC Bill provides. From 2001 and 2010, Gujarat came in third among states with 134 custodial deaths. The state police are known for their alleged encounter killings and extreme brutality while interrogation. Under these circumstances, it seems like a monumental mistake to make confessions obtained under duress admissible in court.
Although this law has been passed four times before by the Gujarat assembly in the past 12 years, it was rejected every single time by the ruling dispensation, whether it was the Atal Bihari Vajpayee or Manmohan Singh-led regime.
The Gujarat assembly perhaps hopes that this time around Prime Minister Narendra Modi can help the bill become a law. If it does become the 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 still remains to be seen whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi has the political vision and adeptness to stop this bill from becoming a law.