By Nirjhari Sinha,
On Dec 17, 2014, Gujarat cotton farmers’ agitation for demanding better minimum support price took an ugly turn when a 21-year-old farmer died due to self-immolation at Rajkot district’s Vinchhiya marketing yard. The super exploitation of the land, market, labour and resources in Gujarat under the leadership of Narendra Modi and now Anandiben at the behest of corporate houses has given rise to severe social unrest and anger against the present government. In this situation, Government now feels an urgent need to suppress these people’s protests and hence the enactment of the draconian law called GCTOC (Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime) bill. Gujarat Assembly, by passing this bill on 31 March, 2015, has not only found a tool which can be used against its political opponents, activists and rebels and also to alienate the minority from the majority community.
This GCTOC legislation is a combination of Anti-terror law on the lines of TADA and POTA, and organized crime law like MCOCA (Maharashtra control of organised crime act). Question that needs to be asked is does Gujarat need such a law?
1) There is already a Central law namely UAPA (Unlawful Activity Prevention Act 2008) which replaced POTA to help police investigate cases of terrorism. Since a Central law already exists on this very subject, why does Gujarat need a terror law of its own? Laws like TADA enacted by Congress and POTA by NDA Government proved to be direct attack on the democratic rights of the people as enshrined in the Constitution and were heavily misused and therefore had to be repealed.
2) Gujarat, unlike Maharashthra, does not have a history of organized crime network because of the absence of an underworld economy. In several speeches and rallies, Mr. Modi himself has claimed that he has successfully defeated whatever underworld lobby there might have been in Gujarat during his regime and he made Gujarat a safe haven for development and industries. That being the case, why does Gujarat need such stringent legislations against organized crime?
3) A narrative in the media seems to question the opposition to GTCOC since similar law, namely, MCOCA exists in Maharashtra. Question being asked is, if Maharashtra can have one, why can’t Gujarat? Firstly, when MCOCA was enacted in 1999, no special law existed for targeting organized crime . In 2015, when GTCOC is being enacted, a central law like UAPA already exists. It is important to point out here that there have been multiple instances where MCOCA has been misused as well.
4) Also, what has changed on ground in Gujarat in terms of crime in the last few years that Government now feels the need for a GTCOC like law? Isn’t Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) sufficient to deal with offences which are now covered under GTCOC? What are the crime statistics that back the need for such a law?
So, there are multiple concerns as to why the bill is needed at all. However, now that bill has been passed at least at the Assembly level, it is also necessary to know what this bill entails. Following are the new powers that are afforded by this bill to the Police:
a) This bill allows police unlimited powers to arrest and detain anyone for 180 days before the charge sheet are filed.
b) It prevents an accused from getting bail while in custody.
c).It is very apparent that with these extra powers for the police, this bill has all the necessary ingredients of a draconian law which can be used against ordinary people causing grave violation of human rights. Moreover, the additional powers of surveillance amount to direct attack on right to privacy and liberty of person under the Constitution of India.c) Confessions made before police of the rank of SP and above will be admissible as evidence in court of law and this will become the tool of state terrorism.
d) It allows police of the rank of SP and above to collect evidence through “interception of wire, electronic or oral communication” and such evidence is admissible in the court of law against accused. In short, it allows unauthorized surveillance.
GUJCOC (Gujarat Control of Organized Crime), which was the previous incarnation of GTCOC, had been rejected twice before by President Pratibha Patil during the UPA regime as well as President Abdul Kalam during the NDA/Vajpayee Government. Both times, the bill was rejected because of provisions of phone surveillance and confessions given before police becoming admissible evidence before court. GTCOC has retained those very same provisions from GUJCOC .What justifies this decision of Gujarat Government inspite of refusal by two presidents?
Moreover, the concerns expressed by two former Presidents vis-a-vis this bill are very much real. Akshardham terror attack and Harin Pandya murder case are the glaring examples of misuse of POTA which had similar provisions as GTCOC. In both cases higher courts acquitted all the accused who were booked under POTA and passed adverse remarks against Gujarat Government and Gujarat Police for faulty investigation and improper use of POTA.
In fact DG Vanzara, who has now been implicated in multiple fake encounters, and his team are the ones who were belatedly given the charge of investigation in Akshardham case and it is his team that extracted confessions from the accused persons in the Akshardham case. That investigation has now been severely criticized by Supreme Court for being unfair and for misuse of power.
The bill also makes a base assumption that officers of the rank of SP and above can be trusted with the extra powers of confessions before police and phone surveillance. However many Gujarat cops who have been charged with encounters which have been proved to prima facie fake, have now been released on bail and Gujarat Government has reinstated them in various plush position. These officers namely PP Pandey, GL Singhal, Rajkumar Pandian, Abhay Chudasama, Vipul Agrawal are all SP level officers and above. Can these officers who are known for misusing their power be now trusted with these draconian laws? What is the guarantee that they won’t carry out nefarious activities at the behest of their political bosses?
We also feel that Gujarat is being used as the laboratory and a testing ground to enact a GTCOC like law at the national level. A draconian law like GTCOC at national level will be a disaster for human rights.
However now that the bill has been passed at the Gujarat Assembly level and this being one of the pet bills of PM Narendra Modi, we are worried that the Central Government under Modi is going to bring considerable pressure on the President to give ascent to this bill. We from Gujarat Janandolan, an umbrella body of civil right organizations, request President Pranob Mukharjee not to give ascent to such a barbaric law which will bring Police-Raj in Gujarat.
The writer is a founder member of Jan Sangharsh Manch and New Socialist Movement, Gujarat.