The Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime (GCTOC) Bill 2015 carries disturbing echoes of draconian anti-terror laws such as the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). Both were considered failed experiments that led to gross abuse. More specifically, the Bill seems to be modelled on the provisions of the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) that was implemented in 1999 and continues to be in force today. In fact, since 2002 it has also been in force in Delhi after the police insisted that such a law was needed as ‘organised crime has no limits’.
The common thread running through all these controversial pieces of legislation is the notion that regular process, as outlined by the Code of Criminal Procedure, is not enough to deal with a changed internal security situation. GCTOC is therefore the latest chapter in a long-running search to find an ‘ideal’ anti-terror law, but like its earlier versions it raises important questions about the lines the state crosses in its attempts to fight crime and terror. GCTOC, like MCOCA, allows confessions secured in police custody to be admitted as evidence in courts, a disturbing provision that is tantamount to legitimising custodial torture. Similarly, it allows the custody of an accused for 180 days rather than the 90 days provided under normal law. The most troubling aspect of MCOCA has been the way it enables the police to sidestep rigorous investigation. It has been used as a charge in all manner of cases ranging from real estate deals, prostitution and match-fixing, as the police seek to stack the odds in their favour in order to secure a conviction. This practice has repeatedly met with censure from the courts and there is no guarantee that GCTOC won’t go down the same path.
The debate around GCTOC in the coming days will most likely take a political hue. When the UPA government first rejected Gujarat’s attempts to pass an anti-terror law the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi claimed that he was only presenting a ‘xerox copy’ of MCOCA. The UPA argued that the Gujarat law was at variance with its policy on terror laws as articulated in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The new government may well have a different national policy. After all, permission for MCOCA was given under the last NDA government. A more useful debate though, is on the manner in which these special laws are created. TADA came into being during the years of the Punjab militancy and POTA after the Parliament attack of 2001, and the genesis of MCOCA was from the Mumbai serial blasts of 1993. Knee-jerk reactions lead to severe laws. The focus should rather be on better resources and training for investigators who can continue to work under the existing Code of Criminal Procedure, which is already comprehensive in scope.