New Delhi: President Ram Nath Kovind has provided his assent to the controversial Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Bill (GCTOC) sixteen years after it was first introduced in the Gujarat state assembly, reported the Indian Express.
It was first introduced in 2003 in the Gujarat assembly by Narendra Modi, who was then the chief minister of the state.
The Bill has been passed by the Gujarat assemblies and brought to presidents three times since 2004. They had been considered and rejected once by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and twice by Pratibha Patil. Pranab Mukherjee in his term had also sent back the Bill to the home ministry for more clarification with respect to certain provisions.
The proposed legislation has been criticised by human rights activists and members of civil society for its potential for misuse by the government, the elimination of procedural safeguards and the weakening of rights and recourses available to an accused.
The Bill’s definition of a ‘terrorist act’ is quite broad. It reads:
“An act committed with the intention to disturb law and order or public order or threaten the unity, integrity and security of the State or to strike terror in the minds of the people or any section of the people by doing an act using bombs, dynamite or any other explosive substance or inflammable material or firearms or other lethal weapons or poison or noxious gases or other chemicals or any other substance (whether biological or otherwise) hazardous in nature in such a manner so as to cause or likely to cause death or injury to any public functionary or any person or loss due to damage or destruction of property or disruption of any supplies or services essential to the life of the community or detains any person and threatens to kill or injure such person in order to compel the State Government to do or abstain from doing any act.”
The Bill has over the years continue to include – despite reservations expressed by three presidents – two particularly controversial provisions: That investigation agencies can intercept oral, wire or electronic communication and submit them as evidence and that confessions before police can be admitted as evidence.
Under the Indian Evidence Act of 1872, a confession made to the police is not admissible in court. The idea here is to prevent the police from extracting a confession from the accused using torture or other methods of coercion.
The GCTOC also provides immunity to the administration and police officers who initiate action under it. “No suit, prosecution or other legal proceeding shall lie against the state government or any officer or authority of the state government for anything which is done in the good faith or intended to be done in pursuance of this Act,” clause 25 of the bill reads.
The legislation also puts the onus of proving innocence on the accused, turning on its head the legal principle of presumption of innocence. “The Special Courts shall presume, unless the contrary is proved, that the accused has committed such offence,” the 2015 draft of the Bill states.