TADA Re-Incarnated

A new preventive detention Bill , the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 1998 is a replica of the old TADA with more draconian measures. Worse, it seeks to make preventive detention a permanent feature of our criminal law

Indian Parliament is on the  verge of passing a freshly  drafted, preventive detention leg islation, the Criminal Law 
Amendment Bill, 1998 (CLA) that is a brazen measure aimed at stifling democratic dissent and which, moreover exposes a sinister motive of incorporating a preventive detention law permanently within the criminal law statute.

Inherent to all preventive detention laws are severe curtailments of basic rights of the citizen, rights related to grounds for arrest, detention, fair trial and other crucial checks and balances on a law and order machinery that, with arbitrary power under law, could well misuse these against the detainee.

The present Bill was introduced by the ministry of home affairs under Congress rule in May 1995. The draft of the new legislation proposed then to replace TADA after toning down some of the harsher provisions contained within TADA. The government proposed to rush it through with open support of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but this attempt was stalled. A working paper circulated by the Law Commission in early 2000 with the revised draft, the CLA, 1998 reveals that the proposed law is a replica of TADA, with some additional draconian features brought back in. Following highly critical feedback on the new Bill, the Law Commission,  is currently working on a revision of the working paper that is likely to be ready in April 2000.

The working paper of 1999 reveals a narrow and partisan view of the political situation in the country and our recent political history. The section Security Situation in the Country  contains statistics and other data concerned with acts of violence in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and the North-East. The Religious Fundamentalist Militancy section mentions that Muslim militancy increased after the bomb blasts in Mumbai, but there is no mention at all of the events before and on December 6, 1992 and the nationwide holocaust that followed.

In 1985 the following clauses contained within TADA were removed from the new Bill. They now re-appear in the CLA Bill of 1998.

Ø The pernicious clause (section 15) which made confessions before police officers admissible as evidence was deleted

Ø The right of appeal to the High Court (and not only to the Supreme Court was restored

Ø Restrictions on the right to bail were removed following judicial direction in Hitendra Thakur v/s State judgement, SC 255.

Ø Section 5 of TADA that had been incorporated into the new Bill, the section pertaining to the mere possession of arms in a notified area constituting an offence was also removed. This followed the SC judgement in the Sanjay Dutt  v/s State through CBI (1994 5SCC 410). This section is now back.

Ø Section 22 of TADA, 1987, also incorporated in the new Bill, which substituted a test identification parade with photo identification was deleted. This provision in TADA had also been held by the SC to be illegal in Kartar Singh. It is now back.

The new Bill sets dangerous precedents in the already black history of preventive detention in India

Ø TADA had to be specially notified in areas that were deemed to be fit for the operation of such a law, the CLA will automatically operate throughout the length and breadth of the country.

Ø The proposed CLA Bill, 1998 will remain in force for five full years. The Law Commission is of the opinion that India requires a permanent anti-terrorist law in view of the alarming  proportions that terrorism has acquired over the past few years.

Ø Modeled on UK and US Anti-Terrorism legislation, a factor that the government is using as justification, the CLA, 1998 omits critical features of accountability contained in the originator legislations. In those countries, government is bound to present annual details of arrests and convictions on the floor of Parliament to ensure a measure of accountability. No such measure of government accountability is contained here.

Ø In the wake of the bomb blasts in Coimbatore in February 1998 (that incidentally also followed three months after brutal bloodletting against the city’s Muslims in November 1997, the Tamil Nadu government enacted the Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act (POTA) which was only recently repealed due to sustained campaigns in that state. In early 1999, the Maharashtra government brought in the Control of Organised Crime Act, 1999 which also contains the most draconian provisions of TADA.  In such a situation, what will the combined effect of a surfeit of preventive detention be except to unlawfully and unconstitutionally vest more and more arbitrary powers with the police?

Ø Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which India is a signatory since 1979, permits states to derogate from certain sections when there is a ‘public emergency that threatens the life of the nation,’ and only ‘to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation.’ This qualification makes it difficult to justify the application of CLA indiscriminately to all parts of the country.

India has a abysmal record of blatant human rights violations that include systematic encounter killings by the law and order machinery or security forces (note the senseless killings of four innocent Kashmiri Muslims near the Zontangri peak to ‘avenge’ the massacre of 35 Sikhs allegedly by foreign militants at Chitti Singhpora on March 20 by the Indian army and the police), a pathetic record of deaths and brutal torture in custody and a non-existent adherence to basic criminal law procedures in matters of arrest, detention and questioning. A new law that grants further immunity to the Indian state and the police from checks and balances from arbitrary misuse, is to put it mildly, ominous.

We are also a state with the longest history of preventive detention since our Independence barring the three-year period between 1977-1980. The worst human rights record was during decade-long existence of the Terrorist and Disputed Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987, the legislation first introduced in 1985 in the wake of Operation Bluestar in the Punjab and prime minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination and thereafter extended for a two year period until it was finally repealed on May 23, 1995. The repeal of TADA followed burgeoning protests from the human rights’ movement all over the country. 

Justice Ranganath Mishra, then chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission had publicly stated that the act had ‘been prima facie abused in Gujarat.’ He convened a meeting on August 22, 1993, at which several chief secretaries and home secretaries of states were present, to push for the review of its application. 

The official admission of allegations of misuse of TADA is evident from a letter by former union home minister, S.B.Chavan, dated July 27,1994 to the chief ministers of all states where TADA was applicable. The letter emphasised that TADA should not be used against political opponents, trade union leaders, journalists, former judges and civil servants. The very need for such a letter is evidence that such abuse of the law had been taking place.

The statement of objectives of the Act specified that TADA that is reproduced verbatim within the new Bill, was meant to curtail overt acts of terrorism in Punjab and Haryana. A spate of terrorism-related violence in the two years that followed between 1985-87 exposed the ineffectivity of TADA for the specific purpose that it was ostensibly enacted. 

On the contrary, TADA in ten years of its existence was actually used, highhandedly, against the Indian civilian population in different states, albeit those sections that the police and governments decided were most inconvenient at that particular moment in time. 

TADA was used to stifle any form of democratic protest. For example, 57 women belonging to the progressive organisation of women protesting against GATT were arrested under TADA in  Nandyal in Andhra Pradesh during a prime ministerial visit. By 1995, in 22 of the 25 states TADA had been notified for application. In ten years a staggering 52, 998 persons were arrested all over the country under TADA, of which only 448 were convicted. The rate of conviction of TADA detainees  was less than one per cent.

Maximum TADA detentions took place in the state of Gujarat that arrested 19,000 persons under that law. Trade unionists, environmental activists and citizens belonging to the minority community were the sufferers. The tale of Mumbai in December 1992-1993 is a sorry record of partisan and brutal police behaviour (see pages 23-24) against the state’s minorities. In the aggression and frenzy unleashed by the Maharashtra and Mumbai police following the bomb blasts of March 1993, members of the minority community were threatened with indiscriminate arrests under TADA and huge monies extorted from them under this threat. Muslim businessmen had then alleged that as much as Rs. 25 crores had been extorted from them in this fashion. 

The National Minorities Commission also passed a unanimous resolution condemning the misuse of the law against the minorities. Justice Rajinder Sachar, a retired chief justice of the Delhi High Court and senior functionary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) had stated on record, “TADA is being misused…After Bombay (bomb blasts) many Muslims have been arrested under TADA.”

The revised CLA retains the earlier definition contained within TADA of a ‘terrorist act.’ However under section 3(1) it widens the scope of the definition. Apart from intentions to overawe the government, strike terror, alienate any section and adversely affect harmony, the definition of a terrorist act  has been expanded further.

To this already wide definition, the Law Commission has added the words, ‘threaten the unity, integrity, security and sovereignty of India.’ This section three is very wide and over-arching in its definition and scope. It includes within it acts that are both violent and non-violent.

 Within the political scenario that confronts us at the moment a profound battle rages on. It is a battle for the ideological and political future f the Indian state. Details of the battle apart, a major and contested issue is on what and who constitutes the threat to the unity, security and sovereignty of India. Arguably, some of us feel that the divisive and pernicious politics of the BJP-RSS-VHP-BD combine, overtly manifest in senior functionaries who occupy government posts today and who have as their goal the transformation of the Indian state from its current democratic character to an authoritarian and sectarian one, is the singular and greatest threat to our unity, our integrity and our security. 

Saying, believing and campaigning for what we believe could, for the sake of argument, immediately attract the provisions of these draconian sections. 

The really dangerous aspect of the section is that it seeks to punish political ‘intent’ as much as the act itself. Section 3(1) of the Act states that it is an offence to conspire, attempt, incite, abet, or assist in the preparation of a terrorist act, or to knowingly harbour or conceal a terrorist. Membership of terrorist gangs, holding of property derived from terrorist funds are also offences under the Act.  Section 4(2) also provides that whoever commits or conspires or attempts or abets advocates, advises, facilitates the preparation or commission of a disruptive act or harbours a disruptionist would also come within the purview of this section.

This section clearly violates section 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution that guarantees freedom of speech and expression. For example, a poet or a cartoonist merely expressing the opinion that a plebiscite should be held to determine the future status of Kashmir could well be held and tried as a disruptionist if this Bill becomes law. This means that anyone can be detained for peacefully expressing their views on matters of ordinary political debate and if found guilty would be sentenced for a minimum sentence of five years, considerably longer than the envisaged international human rights standards.

Under section 5 of the CLA enhanced penalties can be given for offences under the Arms Act, 1959, the Explosives Act, 1884, the Explosive Substances Act, 1908 or the Inflammable Substances Act, 1952 “with an intent to aid a terrorist or a disrputionist.” Offences related to the possession of arms have been linked to ostensible acts of terrorism in ways that are bound to make them deadly weapons in the hands of the police.

Section 3(8) of the proposed legislation makes the failure to disclose information to the police to prevent a terrorist act by any person liable to imprisonment for a year. All citizens have a moral duty to assist in the enforcement of law; the failure to do so here makes this omission a penal offence. Another way of legitimising police harassment and torture of relatives and friends of alleged terrorists? 

A critical feature of the Indian Constitution is the separation of the judiciary and the executive (Article 50). The CLA Bill seeks not only to erode this but also to vest extraordinary powers to the executive. The executive that is the government and its wing, the police have been given the power to frame all rules, mete out punishment, prescribe procedures, seize and confiscate property. Under section 6A the investigating officer (Superintendent of Police) can seize or attach property which at the stage of the investigation, he believes to be obtained by terrorist acts or the proceeds of terrorism.

In continuation of the thinking behind TADA, the CLA upholds the logic that special crimes need special procedures. Checks and balances in accordance with the basic rights of a citizen, rights relating to procedures for arrest, detention, ownership of FIRs and other police records, detailed at length in the CRPC, are given the complete go-by. Permanently.

Section 14c) of the CLA provides for not disclosing the identity of the witness even during cross-examination, while section 3(7) provides for the punishment to a person who may threaten the witness. Arbitrary tools for the police. It is a very serious matter that trade unions and other mass movements have been covered within the purview of the act. The provision implied in section 4(1)© is that if such organisations even by mistake become a party to violence, they can be booked under the section of ‘disruptive activities.’

The Bill gives no discretionary power of bail to the Court unless by prior consent of the public prosecutor. This provision from TADA was grossly misused especially in Gujarat. 

The Bill does not allow for appeal on the interlocutory order. Further, the Bill requires that the FIR must be ratified by the DGP within 10 days or the review committee within 30 days: since both are state authorities, it is unlikely that the verification will not take place. Section 13(5) provides that ‘a special court may if it thinks fit and for reasons recorded ….proceed with the trial in the absence of the accused or the pleader.’ 

This could allow for the grossest abuse. Section 18(2)(b) gives unlimited power to the police to retain the custody of the accused for 180 days without filing a charge sheet. Finally, section 17(3) restricts the period for appeal by the accused to only thirty days when Indian criminal law allows for sixty-ninety days.

Ironically all offences mentioned both in TADA and the CLA find mention in the Indian Penal Code –sections 121-A, 122, 124, 124-A, 153-A and 153-B, besides offences of rioting, grievous hurt, murder, dacoity and piracy.  The IPC also contains various offences relating to the Army, Navy and Air Force. In the past, for the protection of defence of the country, a statute like the Defence of India, Act 1962 was enacted which authorised the Central government to make such rules as appeared to be necessary for the Defence of India: civil defence, public safety, maintenance of public order, efficient conduct of military operations and security forces.

The experience of TADA and its brutal and insensitive application to the Indian civilian population is testimony of the desire and designs of a government and law and order machinery that wishes the experience to be repeated. Terrorism was not curtailed then, it was not even contained despite the existence of TADA On the contrary, thorough investigative procedures were given the go-by, dulling the professionalism of the law and order machinery that was simultaneously empowered by a brutal law to become trigger happy and break the law. Do we want this experience to be repeated? 

Archived from Communalism Combat, April 2000. Year 7  No, 58, Special Report 3



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