State law needs to be reworked
The Gujarat government seems hell bent on passing the draconian Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime (GCTOC) Bill. On Thursday, President Pranab Mukherjee returned the controversial Bill to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), seeking clarifications on some of its provision. In response, the MHA has informed the President that it will submit a re-worked Bill for his approval. In March 2015, the Gujarat Assembly passed the GCTOC Bill. According to news reports, the Bill has retained controversial provisions that had been turned down by two Presidents earlier. Minor changes notwithstanding, it is more or less the same as the Gujarat Control of Organised Crime (GUJCOC) Bill, first introduced in 2003 by the then state government of Narendra Modi. In fact, the current NDA government had earlier this year sent back GCTOC Bill, 2015, after the Ministry of Information and Technology raised certain objections. “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 had objected to this very provision in the Bill. The Bill 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. For any Bill passed by a State Assembly that contravenes India’s Central laws, it needs the President’s assent. The Gujarat government has always contended that organised criminal syndicates make extensive use of wire and oral communication, and therefore, a law of this nature is required. Other controversial provisions of this Bill include considering confessions made to police officers as evidence admissible in a court of law. It also has a provision where the period for filing a charge sheet can be extended to six months, as against 90 days, and no bail can be obtained by the accused on a personal bond. Legal experts contend that many of these provisions are ripe for misuse, especially considering the State police’s track record. 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. 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 its infamous 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 before four times by the Gujarat assembly in the past 12 years, it was rejected every single time the ruling dispensation--whether it is the Atal Bihari Vajpayee or Manmohan Singh-led regime. The proposed law would end up removing many of the civil liberties enjoyed by the citizens of Gujarat, besides infringing upon certain basic rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution. One hopes that the MHA responds to these concerns in its reply to the President.