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Congress, BJP spar over new anti-terror law

CNN-IBN
Dec 17, 2008 at 03:24am IST

New Delhi: The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government is giving teeth to its anti-terror plan and on Tuesday introduced two bills to deal with terrorism.

Union Government will set up a National Investigating Agency that will investigate terror cases across the country and has proposed some amendments in Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

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Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said that it will support the Government's move to deal with the menace of terrorism but adds that the proposed law falls short of the requirements.

To discuss the new anti-terror law, two legal luminaries - Kapil Sibal of the Congress and Arun Jaitley of the BJP joined CNN-IBN’s India @ 9.

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Jaitley said his party is willing to support the Government in the fight against terror but added that the Congress was not serious about dealing with issue.

Union Minister of Science & Technology and Minister of Earth Sciences

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“We support the government for being hard on terror. We don't support the government when it is soft on terror. There are two components of the legislative changes which have been suggested today. The first is the National investigative Agency. This was an initiative that LK Advani had tried and now the UPA is trying. If the UPA succeeds we will be fully supportive as far as this is concerned. At the same time we believe that such a federal agency would be incomplete if there is no firm law to back it up. The strong law argument has not been fully accepted by the UPA. What it has brought about by amendments in the Unlawful Activities Act is a reluctant acceptance of BJP argument that investigation and punishment of acts of terror requires a special law. The special law may not be called POTA by the UPA. It has some strong features but some features are lacking. As a nationalist party we will support even these incomplete steps and continue to press for what UPA has not don,” replied Jaitley when asked if the BJP was supporting the government wholeheartedly.

Kapil Sibal was asked if the Congress and the UPA are under pressure on the new law as apprehensions are being expressed that it could be misused.

Sibal began his reply by taking a pot shot at the BJP reminding Jaitley of the Kandahar hijack fiasco when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government was forced to release terrorists.

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“I want to remind Arun that being tough on terror does not depend on what law you pass. It depends on your actions and when Masood Azhar was released by the NDA and he went to Pakistan and set up a terrorist organisation which went on to attack Parliament then that’s being soft on terror. The certificate of being hard or being soft on terror doesn’t depend on what law you pass. It about action and your action shows that you have been always soft on terror and that is why people attack you in Parliament itself,” said Sibal.

“Now coming to the nitty-gritty. You mention that we are reluctant to pass the law. That’s completely wrong. The NDA tried to set up a federal investigating agency. They didn’t have the intention to set it up. Why did they take six years to think about it and never set it up? After the Mumbai attack we have set up the agency in a few weeks and we are absolutely certain that it is going to be passed in Parliament. That again shows we are tough on terror and not soft,” Sibal said.

He pointed out certain provisions of POTA were misused.

“The third point is that the heart of debate against POTA is that confession to police officers made by the accused was the basis of conviction of those accused. That was what was used against the minority community. That was used against opponents. No investigation used to take place; you could get hold of anybody, force a confession and get him convicted on that basis,” said Sibal.

“It is not impossible to get bail. If the judge feels that prima facie there is a case against the accused or he has committed a terrorist act then he won’t get the bail. If the judge finds that that prima facie there is no case then accused will get bail,” he added while stressing that the law was tough against terror.

When Jaitley was asked to point out specific provisions which the BJP felt were weak, he said, “Provisions of POTA have been brought into the Unlawful Activities Act in two phases. In the first phase you brought in provisions with regards to terrorist funding, with regards to confiscation of terrorist properties, with regards to incepts of evidence, with regards to banning terrorist organisations and with regards to Special Forces to be set up for terrorism. Today there is law which increases the remand period, which redefines the offence of terrorism and which makes bail very difficult. If bail is still possible then provisions of CrPC could continue which you are not continuing because terrorism does require harsh bail provisions and we think it is a step in the right direction.”

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“The provision it doesn’t have is certain safeguards, admissibility of confessions made to senior police officials. The Supreme Court in the case of TADA and POTA okayed the provision where you can have confessions made to the rank of Superintendent of Police and above, video recording of those confessions, the accused being produced before a magistrate within 24 or 48 hours of the confession, being medically examined if he complains of torture and then the confession being entertained by the court,” Jaitley continued.

He also added, “This should be a part of the new bill. There are identical provisions in the Narcotics Law. You have provisions in MCOCA, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. It exists under Customs Act. So why should it not exist against terrorists?”

Sibal once again tried to corner Jaitley saying strong laws have not prevented terror strikes but they have been misused against the minorities,

“The response is very simple. There was MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act) and terrorists attacked Mumbai. MCOCA did not stop them. Whether or not a confession is made to a police officer doesn’t stop a terror attack. MCOCA did not stop the attack even though it has the provision but it was misused for several years. In Godhra the review committee says they are not terrorists at all. These people have been denied bail for six years and they are not termed as terrorists. For the past several years BJP and an ex-Supreme Court judge have been saying they are terrorists. Now there is a Supreme Court order that says after the state review committee they are not terrorists. It means that these are being used against the minority community and this is the experience of how you have used these confessions. We are not going to allow that to happen. We are not apologetic about the law. We have done much more that what NDA ever did. The record of NDA government proves that they were soft on terror,” he pointed out.

When CNN-IBN asked if the new law is becoming a political issue, Jaitley said, “Even as we will support this law, we will campaign for certain strong measures, which are required. The reason is one terrorist has been arrested in Mumbai. He is giving details about the Karachi link. Obviously Indian police will never be able to produce eye witnesses of the Karachi link to the conspiracy. All the information about arms, training etc will come from Kasab. Even in the assassination of late Rajiv Gandhi it was only confessions that led to convictions. Not one would have been convicted but for the confessions”

Sibal simply said that BJP has no choice left.

“I don’t think the BJP has a choice as they can’t do anything else. I can’t expect anything better from them. They will make political capital and very reluctantly say we support this law. Thank you Mr Jaitley for your stand,” he concluded.

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