Do we need to revive POTA?

Written by: Rajesh Krishna
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{image-terror act_28072008.jpg}Bangalore, Jul 28: The serial blasts in Bangalore and Ahmedabad on two consecutive days claiming altogether more than 49 human lives have once again brought to sharp focus the need for judicial mechanism to deal with terror.

Current UPA government had revoked POTA in 2004 without giving the nation an alternate law to deal with the menace of terrorism. Reviving POTA is a demand that has been raised for a long time by the BJP. Should POTA be brought back? Did POTA play a role in curbing terror or is its utility being overstated? Is the introduction of 'tough, anti-terror laws' which places individual freedom and civil liberties on the backseat make India terror-free?

The birth of POTA

POTA was introduced in June 2002.

What prompted goverment to enact POTA?

The September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States constituted the main reason. Several terrorist attacks, especially in the troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir, and the attempt to storm Parliament in New Delhi quickened the pace of enactment of POTA. The act replaced an earlier anti-terrorism law known as the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, which was allowed to lapse by the P V Narasimha Rao government back in 1995.

Vajpayee's government said POTA was India's boldest initiative to fight terrorism, disband terrorist outfits, and choke terror funding.

What is POTA?

This law allow the detention of a suspect for up to 180 days without the filing of charges in court. It also allowed law enforcement agencies to withhold the identities of witnesses and treats a confession made to the police as an admission of guilt. Under regular Indian law, a person can deny such confessions in court, but not under POTA.

Maximum number of arrests made under POTA

Jharkhand that saw the largest number of arrests under POTA. Some 250 people have been jailed under the law in this eastern state. Eventhough the then Jharkhand govermemt claimed that POTA has been widely used in many parts of Jharkhand to curb the Naxalite menace. But human rights activists say POTA had been misused in Jharkhand against poor, low-caste, tribal people and farmers and villagers who support Naxal groups

Most high profile arrest under POTA

The most high profile POTA arrest has not been of any terrorist, but of Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader V Gopalasamy aka Vaiko. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa got Vaiko arrested under POTA for making a public speech in support of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE).

Abolition of POTA

The abolition of POTA was the UPA goverment's first major policy decision after taking office in May 2004. UPA goverment's argument was that India already has a number of stringent laws like the National Security Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act to check terrorism.

Postmortem of POTA

Analysts say that POTA was ineffective in curbing the threat of terrorism, particularly from across the border in Pakistan. Moreover POTA has only horror stories to say of its misuses. Mostly Muslims and underprivileged communities were targeted under POTA, In Gujarat, all expect one of the POTA detanees were from the muslim minority.

The law had also been a subject of debate for its alleged use or abuse by several provincial governments against political rivals. One such controversy relates to a regional leader in Tamil Nadu, Vaiko, who was imprisoned for more than a year under Pota for his alleged support of the banned Sri Lankan rebel group, LTTE. Significantly, Mr Vaiko was among those who had approved Pota in parliament.

Human rights groups attacked the law for its draconian provisions which they said posed a serious threat to individual freedoms and fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian constitution.

Well, India certainly faces a greater terrorist threat, if one goes by the number of terrorism incidents in the recent past. When you think casually, you may think that a law like POTA seems fine, but unfortunately in execution it can be horrific. What would you feel if a close relative whom you know is innocent???

Or wait... Why take an example of a close relative? Let us imagine for a second that you yourself are picked up for questioning and held for days without charge. I have tried to put myself in this position, and at the same time have tried to think of the importance of protecting our country from terrorist threats which leads to the death of innocent lives.

I think, what our country needs is better intelligence gathering, policing and coordination between the Centre and states to deal with such terror attacks.

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