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Now to make it work

india Updated: Dec 17, 2008 22:55 IST

Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

After the initial bickerings, the political class of the country has finally come around to forge an anti-terror law that isn’t about a war of perceptions but is against the real adversary: terrorism. The proof of the pudding, of course, will be how long this bipartisan approach to a common scourge lasts. For if anything was learnt by the national horror of 26/11 it is that we don’t have a choice except to continue on this welcome path of consensus. As in earlier, anti-terror laws, there will be serious challenges. The proposed Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment (UAPA) Bill will have to be used with extra care to ensure that it is not applied to innocent civilians. Politically motivated ‘outcries’ against it should also be avoided, so as to ensure that the proverbial baby is not thrown out with the bathwater.

The UPA coalition, traditionally perceived as being hesitant of anti-terror laws (the repeal of the earlier Prevention of Terrorism Act being a yardstick), must realise that for a law such as the UAPA to be ‘perfected’, it has to be put in place and implemented in the right manner — not instinctively shunned. The UAPA is already a ready improvement in this direction than the Pota. Its most important element is that a confession to the police cannot be used as evidence in a court. The bill also insists that a court order must precede a wiretap and is less severe on the ‘guilty until proven innocent’ front. What is especially encouraging is that the UAPA ventures into new territory by bringing funding and the provision of explosives into the ‘terrorism’ net.

What should now be kept in mind is to perpetuate such a law, keeping vigorous tabs on its implementation. Bringing in a law and then scurrying after political noises to repeal it is a worthless exercise. To ensure that the UAPA isn't genuinely misused, India's policing system must change, drastically and quickly. The police, today, are asked to preempt terrorist activity but are provided minimal forensic capabilities and intelligence back-up. Instead, loopholes are created in the criminal system, allowing them extra-judicial means like torture, indefinite detention and encounter deaths to carry on their duties. This does not help any law — let alone an anti-terror one. The UAPA Bill must address these broader issues by talking of police training, technology and forensic expertise. By delinking the terms ‘police confession’ from ‘torture’, the law will actually lead to ‘genuine’ confessions being admissible in courts — as it is in most developed countries.

By incorporating these provisions and ensuring that it isn’t abused, the UAPA could be that elusive thing India so desperately needs: a strong anti-terror law that sticks around.