The pressure to enact a tougher law to tackle terrorism in the country grows by the day. The opposition BJP had been crying itself hoarse demanding such a law for a long time, but now the Administrative Reforms Commission has also recommended it. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finally declared that the government was indeed considering such a step.
Tough anti-terror laws have always been controversial because past experiences of every country have shown that they are always liable to be misused. In India, a particular community has often been targeted using such special laws. The Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act passed in 1985 was scrapped a decade later precisely because allegations of it having been abused were widespread.
Seven years later, in 2002, with the NDA in power, came the Prevention of Terrorist Activities (POTA) Act. Once again it was misused. In Jharkhand, a number of minors were booked under it for reasons never made clear. In Tamil Nadu, a senior political leader, Vaiko, was similarly sent to jail under POTA by Jayalalitha, for having spoken up in support of the LTTE.
Proponents of such a law retort that mere apprehension that a law may be misused should not deter the state from enacting it. Around 13,500 civilians and 5,600 security personnel have died in terrorist-related violence in the past decade. Almost every part of the country has seen terror strikes. Maharashtra already has a special law in place to deal with organized crime. If democracies like the US and UK can have tough anti-terror laws, why can’t we?
Obviously a balance has to be achieved between national security and protecting a citizen’s basic rights. But it is an irony that the very UPA government that repealed POTA is now mulling a new anti-terror law that could be harsher than POTA.