Friday, August 26, 2016

Following wide protests, Bill proposing sweeping surveillance powers to state, cops in Maharashtra withdrawn

By Our Representative
Following wide protests and public pressure, including by two civil rights organizations, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and Police Reforms Watch (PRW),  a new internal security law in Maharashtra – Protection of Internal Security Bill 2016, seeking to give sweeping powers to executive and police over private spaces - has been withdrawn.
In a statement, the two organizations had said, “We are particularly concerned with the wide scope of the Bill, created purportedly to deal with multiple security challenges.” It adds, “The omnibus Bill tries to deal with challenges of 'terrorism, insurgency, communalism, caste violence, etc.' all in one legislation and does not differentiate between the nature of threats from each.”
The Bill had proposed up to five years imprisonment for merely showing cops in poor light, even as internal security as a situation “posing threat to state within its borders, either caused or provoked, prompted, or proxied by a hostile foreign power, perpetrated even by such groups that use a failed, failing or weak hostile foreign power, causing insurgency, terrorism or any other subversive act targeting innocent citizens, causing animosity between groups, violence, destroy, or attempt to destroy public and private establishments.”
Pointing out that “laws are already in place to deal with many of these matters”, the NGOs had said, “In order to bring every kind of threat under one law, the Bill relies on dangerously vague catch-all definitions, which are totally insufficient to further justify criminalisation or prohibition.”
Apprehending that the Bill would “abuse of power”, Maja Daruwala, director, CHRI, had stated, “The draft Bill is ill-considered both in its intent and content. Every citizen should be alarmed at the sweep of laws like this which are designed for abuse.”
He added, “The greatest security the state can provide to all of us is to make sure we have an honest efficient and law upholding police and a court system geared to give us speedy and fair justice. Certainly more and more laws only go to muddying the waters and reducing people’s power to face up to oppression.”
Objections were raised to the draft Bill's provision, which makes it compulsory for all public spaces – whether publicly or privately owned – to have CCTV surveillance and security arrangements, which would be mandated by the police. The public spaces are proposed to be routinely audited for their security arrangements.
“The detailed Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the security audit will be framed by the MSSC (Maharashtra State Security Council) in consultation with the parties concerned. These SOPs will be revised periodically,” the Bill read.
The Bill wasreleased into the public domain ahead of the next Assembly session, and the state government had claimed, it provided an “opportunity” for an exhaustive debate to discuss the necessity of any new law as well as the state of policing and security in Maharashtra.
The Bill proposed to set up of Special Security Zones (SSZs), where movement of arms, explosives and inflow of unaccounted funds will be prohibited, with special focus on nuclear reactors, dams, major projects, coastal areas under its ambit.
With a provision for a jail term of up to three years and fine for those threatening the state’s security, the Bill says, SSZs would have a separate police infrastructure. The zones would also have a command and control system, and a separate Standard Operating Procedure (SoP), to be followed by the SSZ police.
First of its kind in India, the Bill wanted that the police chief should have powers to ban or regulate the “production, sale, storage, possession, or entry of any devices or equipment or poisonous chemical, biological or radioactive article or substances, or electronic content of potentially explosive nature or any inflow of funds.”

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