Prevention Of Terrorism Ordinance And Its Implications

Justifying the promulgation of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO), the Center says, “It is the first legal salvo against terrorism with complete safeguards to check the menace speedily and effectively.” Under this ordinance, 23 organizations in India have been banned. This list practically includes all the insurgent groups operating in the North-East, with the exception of Nagaland-based groups such as the NSCN (IM), NSCN (K) and the NNC.

The North-East outfits which have been branded as terrorist organizations, under Chapter III of the ordinance which deals with the terrorist organizations, are the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), the Kanglei Yawol Kanba Lup (KYKL), the Manipur People’s Liberation Front (MPLF), the All-Tripura Tiger Force and the National Liberation Front of Tripura.

Amnesty International made a statement of observation that the definition of “terrorism” and of “terrorism-related” crimes contained in the new ordinance may be too vague. In times like these, when the tense international situation is likely to stimulate debate in the country, such a wide definition might expose non violent human rights defenders, minority communities and the media to a discriminatory enforcement of the new ordinance.

The National Human Rights Commission commented that there was no need for a new law at this point of time. The extent of opposition to POTO was reflected in the NHRC’s stand. The chairman of the NHRC said that “What we need is stricter implementation of the existing anti-terrorism laws and not a new legislation,” The commission, which was apprehensive that new laws could lead to human rights violation, has asked for a copy of the ordinance.

This 50-page, 61-clause ordinance was supposed to avoid all pitfalls and criticisms that the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Prevention Act (TADA), which expired in 1995, had to face.

The newly proposed law contains certain safeguards not included in TADA, including immediate notification of family members following arrest and restrictions on the use of confessions extracted by torture, but it is more stringent than a criminal law bill that had been in the works to replace TADA. In putting forward the new proposal, the Indian cabinet rejected the pending criminal law bill, deeming it “too weak to provide a legal framework for combating terrorism.”

The ordinance defines terrorist acts as those done by using weapons and explosive substances or other methods in a manner as to cause or likely to cause death or injuries to persons or loss or damage to property or disruption of essential supplies and services with intent to threaten the unity or integrity of India or to strike terror in any section of the people.

This ordinance will have to be passed through Parliament, as it will be valid for a maximum of six months. Apparently, state governments and other departments were consulted twice on the various provisions of the ordinance and suggestions and were noted before it was put into effect. In addition special features/safeguards have been built in to prevent the possibility of misuse of the special power given to investigating authorities while also keeping in view the observations of the Supreme Court.

Chapter III of the Ordinance deals with the terrorist organizations and Section 20 says, “A person commits an offence if he belongs or professes to belong to a terrorist organization.”

“A person guilty of an offence under Section 18 shall be liable, on conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or with fine or with both,” it said.

Section 21 of the Ordinance goes even further and says a person would be committing an offence if he invites support for a terrorist organization, organizes meeting to support such an organization or organizes a meeting to be addressed by persons who belong to the terrorist organizations.

This act also would invite similar punishment as provided under Section 20. Section 21 clarifies that a “meeting” as given in this section need not necessarily be a public meeting.

Section 22 provides that “a person commits an offence if he invites another to provide money or other property and intends that it should be used, or has reasonable cause to suspect that it may be used, for the purpose of terrorism”.

An offence under this Section would invite a maximum sentence of 14 years on conviction.

Besides, it has a clause pertaining to the “disclosure of information”, which has been facing mounting criticism, as it is equally applicable to journalists as well. Section 3 (8) of POTO places responsibility on all persons to disclose information which the person knows or believes to be of material assistance in preventing any terrorist activity as soon as reasonably practicable to the police.

However, exception has been provided in case of persons engaged as legal attorney of the accused who may have acquired such knowledge for the purpose of preparing the defense for the accused.

Section 14 provides a new provision, which makes it obligatory to furnish information in respect of a terrorist offence. Failure to furnish the information called for or deliberately furnishing false information to investigating officer shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to three years or fine or both. The investigating officer can call for such information only with prior approval in writing of an officer not below the rank of Superintendent of Police.

Section 32 provided for admissibility of confessions made to a police officer under certain conditions. But unlike TADA, the confession of an accused shall not be admissible as evidence against a co-accused. Further such confessions had to be made before a police officer not lower in rank of a SP and had to be further recorded with a Chief Judicial Magistrate within 48 hours.

Financing of terrorism, possession of unauthorized arms, explosive substances or other lethal weapons capable of mass destruction and/or use in biological and chemical warfare have also been brought under the purview of this ordinance and the punishment could range from three years imprisonment to life imprisonment or fine or both and also death penalty.

The promulgation of POTO is in addition to another draconian law that exists in Manipur and other parts of the North-East such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958.

Meanwhile opposition parties have expressed their opposition to the ordinance. The Left parties said that they would oppose the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) when it comes for ratification in Parliament as “it had little safeguard for democratic and human rights of the citizens .” Moreover, the Congress, the Left and other opposition parties reiterated their substantive and procedural objections to the move, in the process lambasting the “backdoor entry” of the new law.

(ManipurOnline Media Services)

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