ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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TADA: Hard Law for Soft State

The proposed anti-terrorist law, Criminal Law Amendment, brings back TADA in disguise, minus even the paltry safeguards. The government claims that the Act helps law enforcing agencies fight terrorism. But there are already fears that the proposed Act may be misused.

The government intends enacting a new anti-terrorist law similar to the lapsed TADA. At present called the Criminal Law Amendment, the proposed law intends to deal stringently with terrorists. Remand is extended, confessions are admissible as evidence, right to bail restricted and, punishments are enhanced. The trial procedure is prejudicial against the accused. The burden of proof is reversed. Appeals to the high court are denied. And the crime itself is defined in such sweeping terms that almost any crime could invite charges under this extraordinary law and could be used arbitrarily against any kind of dissent and protests – from pamphleteering to writing a poem or singing a song or even simply being present at a particular place at a particular time. The extraordinary powers it confers on the police and the political party in power to deal with such ‘actions’ make it a handy weapon against any political opponent. This becomes even easier since the law dismantles all safeguards, all checks and balances that are written into our criminal and judicial system and sets out separate procedures for investigating and trying these offences.

The anti-terrorist law is being advocated under the plea that terrorism in this country is growing in scale and complexity. More alarmingly it is being sponsored by outside agencies. This belief has been strengthened after the recent hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane. Ever since TADA lapsed the government and some political parties, particularly the BJP, have been calling for reviving the TADA. The premise of such a demand is that the ordinary law and the normal criminal justice system have failed to cope with these crimes. This failure is not attributed to the law enforcing machinery – its inefficiency or corruptness – but to the weakness of law based on principles of liberal jurisprudence and notions of natural justice: principles like the right to equal treatment before law, the right to a fair trial and the right to be deemed innocent until proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt. And so if the law is to be effective in dealing with terrorists it can only do so if these principles are overturned and if these rights are taken away. The solution to terrorism is a stringent law without loopholes to ensure that the guilty are brought to book. The definition of ‘terrorist activity’ is vague and the power to determine who is a ‘terrorist’ is solely in the hands of the police and the political party in power. As a result, often ‘protest’ becomes ‘terrorism’ and political opponents ‘terrorists’. Peasants agitating for land reforms or against the Dunkel Draft, workers agitating against retrenchment, advocates and artists, playwrights and academicians, all were declared ‘terrorists’ at one time or another under TADA. This law, even more stringent, will be worse.

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