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GUJCOTOC: Another draconian law from Gujarat in the name of fighting terrorism

By Fr Cedric Prakash sj*On March 31, 2015, the Gujarat Legislative Assembly passed another draconian law, the Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime (GUJCOTOC) Bill 2015. This bill has yet to be sent to the Governor of Gujarat for his assent. It will then have to be sent to the Rashtrapati Bhavan for approval by the President of India because of the contentious provisions in it; very interestingly, three earlier versions of this draconian bill in 2004, 2008 and 2009 were rejected by the President of India.
There are several provisions in the bill which are draconian in nature and will surely enhance tyranny by the police and the abuse of law in order to settle political scores or to quell dissent and human rights, these include:
i. the empowerment of an investigating agency to continue for 180 days its investigation – as against the maximum period of 90 days laid down in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC); during this period the accused will be in judicial custody
ii. the confession made before police officer while in police custody can be used against the accused in a trial
iii. the authorisation for the interception of wire, electronic or oral communication as admissible evidence against the accused in court
iv. the Government (according to Section 25 of the bill) is made immune from any legal action for ‘anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done in pursuance of this act’
The justification given by the Gujarat Government for such an inhuman legislation is that it has borrowed several of its provisions from already existing laws both from India and abroad and that it has striking parallels to the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) 1999 - which of course has no reference to terrorism.
Civil society in Gujarat and in other parts of India are naturally up in arms; speaking at a public meeting in Ahmedabad on April 9, Girish Patel, Senior Counsel of the Gujarat High Court and doyen of the human rights movement in Gujarat, said, “Modern criminal law suggests that an accused should be treated as a human and the onus is on the State to prove that he is guilty. It also entitles him for a fair trial as per the Constitution and benefit of doubt, if any, is enjoyed by him; however, the bill is against these principles.”
The question being asked by legal experts, human rights activists and other concerned citizens is whether such a law is necessary or not? No one denies that any kind of terrorist activity goes against the very essence of humanity and should be firmly dealt with. There are however enough of laws in existence which can deal with terrorism; adding another draconian law and providing the State machinery with unbridled powers lends itself to abuse; whilst attempting to control terrorism the State is in fact indulging in a new kind of terrorism. This law is certainly unwarranted.
Civil society leaders of Gujarat have now called for a ‘Jan Andolan’ (people's movement) to take on this draconian anti-terror bill and to ensure that it never sees the light of day. Several representations have been made from all over both to the Governor of Gujarat and to the President of India not to sign the GUJCOTOC bill 2015.
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*Director, Prashant Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace, Ahmedabad

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