A reforms commission set up by the government has called for a comprehensive anti-terrorism law, raising questions over the Congress-led coalition’s claims that the security establishment could work within the existing legal framework.
The Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Congress leader M. Veerappa Moily in its report released on Tuesday insisted that existing laws were not adequate to deal with terrorism. It recommended changes to the National Security Act and empowering the Centre to investigate terrorist offences.
Moily, however, cautioned against “a disturbing trend… of viewing the so-called war against terror as a war against Islam”.
The call for harsher laws is in contrast to the stand of the UPA government. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister Shivraj Patil have in the past asserted that existing laws were sufficient.
There has, however, been increasing realisation within the home ministry that the demand for stringent provisions in the law may not be entirely unreasonable.
The fact that some of the demands have come from within -- police officers dealing with counter terrorism at the field level have also begun pushing the issue -- has left the Centre examining the possibility.
The committee’s report ‘Combating Terrorism by Protecting Righteousness”, submitted in June to the prime minister for consideration, says the “ordinary laws of the land may not be adequate to book a terrorist”. It calls for the enactment of “a comprehensive and effective legal framework to deal with all aspects of terrorism”.
The report suggests there are sufficient safeguards to prevent its misuse.
A key recommendation is a change to Section 167 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which will allow police to jail terror suspects for at least one year without trial.
Under such an amended law, no terror accused could be released on bail.
In addition, the commission suggests doubling the period of police custody to a minimum of one month.
In an attempt to strengthen admissible evidence, the commission also reminded the government of an earlier amendment it suggested -- requiring that confessions made before the police be video recorded so that the tapes could be produced in court.
At the release of the report, Moily refused to be drawn into controversy over whether his commission was recommending steps contrary to the government’s stance on POTA-type laws.
When pressed for an answer on whether the new legislation suggested by the commission was not the same as POTA, Moily said: “It is not POTA, not TADA, not MCOCA -- it is a stand alone.”