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New anti-terror laws: More bite than bark

india Updated: May 03, 2010 10:33 IST

The Centre has sharper legal teeth to tackle terror now.

The 26/11 terror attack not only changed the way the security establishment handled intelligence reports but also convinced Parliament to quickly pass two laws within a fortnight of the attack.

The government first tightened the anti-terror legal framework — the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act was amended — empowering anti-terror agencies to hold suspects behind bars for longer.

The second law led to the creation of a specialised team of investigators under the National Investigation Agency (NIA). The agency has a single-point mandate: investigate cases involving terror suspects such as David Headley and Tahawwur Rana, who were caught by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation last month.

The two legislations were seen as an answer to critics who accused the UPA government of weakening the anti-terror framework, and giving security personnel the means to fight terror without their hands tied behind their backs.

“These were two good steps… The NIA has done a good job in its first case, tracking down government funds that were being channelled to the insurgents (in Assam),” said M.L. Kumawat, former special secretary to the home ministry.

Kumawat believes that the government should go one step further and empower the NIA to take preventive action as well. At present, the agency gets into action only after a terrorist act.

“The best thing would be for an agency to prevent an incident,” Kumawat said.

T.K. Vishwanathan, advisor to Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily and one of the top officials involved in preparation of the anti-terror laws when he was law secretary, said the challenge was to come up with a combination of preventive and deterrent measures.

“A year later, the effective legal framework for dealing with terror suspects is in place,” Vishwanathan said. “The tightening up of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act has given much needed teeth to agencies such as the NIA for taking tough action.”

Comparing the steps taken after 26/11 to the creation of the separate Department of Homeland Security by the US government following the 9/11 attacks that “led to no further terror strikes” in the US, Vishwanathan said, “the Indian government also went in for a complete overhaul”.

However, some human rights activists have slammed the new anti-terror framework. “The government’s definition of a terrorist changed within a year from those who carry out attacks to Maoists, their (Maoists’) sympathisers and journalists who talk to them,” said senior Supreme Court lawyer and human rights activist Prashant Bhushan.

Bhushan said new laws were not the answer to terrorism. “Existing laws were sufficient,” he said. “The problem was enforcement. That needs to be addressed.”