New Gujarat law gives cops draconian powers

The Gujarat government on Tuesday passed a controversial anti-terror law that seeks to make confessions to the police admissible in court as evidence, among other provisions.

The state's BJP government passed the Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Bill (GCTOC), which was rejected on three earlier occasions by two Presidents (APJ Abdul Kalam Azad and President Pratibha Patil) for violating basic principles of justice.

The new Act is a modified version of the 2003 law that originated during Modi's regime as chief minister.

The bill among other things empowers police to tap phone conversations and use them as evidence in court to extend the custody of an accused from the current 90 days to 180 days without filing a charge-sheet, and to attach property - provisions similar to those in erstwhile anti-terror laws Tada and Pota that were widely misused.

The law is an amended version of the 2003 Gujarat Control of Organised Crime Bill that was rejected by former presidents APJ Abdul Kalam and Pratibha Patil during the previous NDA and UPA regimes despite being passed by the state assembly when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was chief minister.

It was termed ''anti-constitutional'' by the opposition Congress and has also come under attack from social activists. ''It is a very dangerous situation for the rights of the people,'' said Medha Patkar.

After its passage for the third time in the state assembly, the ruling BJP is hopeful that with Modi at the helm, the new bill will finally get central approval.

On Tuesday, the Anandiben Patel government introduced the bill on the last day of the budget session, and it was passed with a majority vote as the Congress walked out.

''Organised crime is a very serious threat to society. It knows no national boundaries and is fuelled by illegal wealth generation by contract killing, extortion, smuggling in contraband, illegal trade in narcotics, kidnappings for ransom, collection of protection money, economic offences and large-scale organised betting in any form, and cyber-crimes,'' read the statement of objects and reasons of the bill – as poorly worded as it is amorphous.

''It is noticed that organised criminal syndicates make extensive use of wire and oral communication in their criminal activities. The interception of such communication to obtain evidence of the commission of crimes or to prevent the commission of thereof is an indispensable aid to law and enforcement and administration of justice.''

Deputy minister of home affairs in the Gujarat government, Rajnikant Patel, who piloted the bill in the House, said, ''Since Pakistan has become the epicentre of terrorism and Gujarat shares a border with Pakistan, it is necessary for the state to have such a law to deal with terrorism and activities related to organised crime."

"Adequate checks and balances have been made to see that the police do not misuse the provisions of the new law," Patel told the assembly.

The checks and balances, which the government is referring to, include forensic examination of video recordings of confessional statements. The home department will also set up a committee to examine whether the confessions were made under duress. Prosecution powers under this law will be directly with the home department.

But Congress MLA Shaktisinh Gohil said, ''This bill has provisions that go against the Constitution.''

Gohil said the bill had many provisions similar to the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 ( POTA) which was later repealed.