Anti-Terrorism Laws- Mere Words on Paper?

Anti-Terrorism Laws in India
Anti-Terrorism Laws in India

Walk down these 6 decades of independence, what do you see? Let me tell you what do I see, Terror. From the 1987 Punjab killings to the very recent Pathankot IAF attacks, the terror just seems to be gaining strength instead of receding back into the cave. If you look at the statistics you’ll notice that there hasn’t been even one single year since 2000 that this terrorism has not made the world aware about its existence, making sure that we not only are aware that it exist but also fear its existence. Currently there are as many as 800 terrorist organisations operating in the world. On one hand where the terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda or Indian Mujahedeen are  repeatedly trying to prove that they are inevitable , our government on the other seems to care no more than just ‘agreeing’ to their untameable force. So just when people like you and me think there is no cure to this disease called ‘terrorism’ , the law makers try and make us believe that there was and still are medicines to eradicate this widespread disease.

As far back as 1987 when Punjab was in a turmoil due to the Sikh and anti- Sikh conflict, the government came out with TADA [terrorist and disruptive activities (prevention) act]. This was passed considering the Pakistan involvement in training the Sikhs during the early 90s. It was the first anti-terrorism law legislated by the government to define and counter terrorist activities. This act provides for a thorough definition of terrorist activities in Sec 3 sub-sec (1) stating:-

“(1) Whoever with intent to overawe the Government as by law established or to strike terror in the people or any section of the people or to alienate any section of the people or to adversely affect the harmony amongst different sections of the people does any act or thing by using bombs, dynamite or other explosive substances or inflammable substances or fire-arms or other lethal weapons or poisons or noxious gases or other chemicals or by any other substances (whether biological or otherwise) of a hazardous nature in such a manner as to cause, or as is likely to cause, death of, or injuries to, any person or persons or loss of, or damage to, 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 Government or any other person to do or abstain from doing any act, commits a terrorist act.”

This act lapsed in 1995 considering the numerous cases of abuse of the draconic statutory powers provided by the act to the officers.

The first attempt to curb the disease failed, and the need to have another action plan was desperately needed as the disease had not yet met its end. The following years saw terrible attacks like the Brahmaputra Mail Train bombings in 1996, in which 33 died and 150 were injured and the Coimbatore Bombings of 1998 with 58 deaths and 200+ injuries. This resulted in another act being passed in Maharashtra, MCOCA [Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act] in 1999. However, the act limited utilization within the territory of Maharashtra that called for a national anti- terrorism law which will safeguard or at least attempt to safeguard the nation and its citizens. Furthermore the act did not stipulate points like ‘prosecution of police officers found guilty of its abuse’.

The non-applicability of the MCOCA to the whole nation called for a better and a more reliable law to regulate the security of the nation. Before our government was hit with the realization that there was an immediate need of a well-defined anti-terrorism law they were made to see the consequences of not having the same. On 13th December 2001 there was an attack on the Parliament killing 14 people including 5 militants and causing 18 injuries. The masterminds behind this act were suspected to be the Lashkar-e-Taiba (Let) and Jaish-e-Mohammed ( JeM) ,however the former denied its involvement in any form. As a result of this shock POTA [Prevention of Terrorist Activities] was passed in 2002. Its main objective was to strengthen the anti-terrorism laws of the country. The act separately defined a ‘terrorist act’ under Sec 3 (a) and also a ‘terrorist’ under Sec 3 (b). Similar to the provisions in the TADA, the act provided for 180 days of detention without filing of the charge sheet. This act was repealed by the UPA government in 2004, however it is still relevant due to the cases being pending under it. Attorney General Soli Sorabjee argued for the constitutional validity of the POTA. He said that POTA is an improved version of TADA-

“Therefore, if Tada was pronounced to be constitutional, Pota is fortiori constitutional. Besides, the menace of terrorism faced by the country since Tada has increased manifold both in scale and intensity”,

As of now there is only one anti-terrorism act operating in the country apart from the laws mentioned in the IPC and CRPC , which is UAPA (unlawful activities prevention act) which dates back to 1967. It was last amended in 2012 and its main objective include dealing with activities that pose a threat to the territorial integrity of the nation. The act was further made stronger after the 26/11 Mumbai Attacks.

The question that arises now is whether the medicines have been successful enough in if not eradicating then lessening the impact of the disease. The answer here can vary based on perceptions. The government could probably conclude that they have succeeded in a few aspects. However, common people like me fail to see any form of implementation of these laws that are written on paper. Just a few days after the Indian and Pakistani leaders, Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif, met in Lahore on 25th December, 2015, to launch a surprise peace initiative, the Pathankot air base, near Pakistan, was attacked by a few heavily armed gunmen. Such terror attacks leaves us all speechless but also keeps reminding us that it is a burning issue in the country and this problem needs to be tackled urgently. How long will the terrorists enjoy our inefficiency to tackle them at the cost of numerous innocent lives? There has to be an action, there should have been one till now, but what more can we say than better late than never.


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