The Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party government is reconsidering the controversial provisions of the proposed Punjab Control of Organised Crime Act (PCOCA), a stringent piece of legislation pushed by the police as an antidote to the rampant criminal activities of gangsters in the border state.
At the cabinet meeting on Tuesday, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal deferred the proposal after senior BJP minister Madan Mohan Mittal said that certain provisions of the Act were “harsh and susceptible to misuse”.
Mittal, who holds industries portfolio, also argued that bringing a tough law (PCOCA) barely six months before the assembly election was “a bad idea”. His logic: A tough law would not only attract controversy, it would buttress opposition’s charge on a downslide in the law and order.
Picking holes in the draft legislation, Mittal pointed out that it allowed the police to intercept calls and messages, and treat it as evidence. This provision, he told the cabinet, could be misused by the police and politicians against their rivals.
In the wake of a surge in organised gangs in Punjab , senior police officials have made a strong case for the PCOCA, which is modelled on a legislation already in force in Maharashtra to deal with the underworld criminals. The bill’s draft was legally vetted and endorsed by the home department headed by deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal before it was tabled in the cabinet.
An official note circulated in the cabinet meeting says that there are 57 active gangs in Punjab. Of 115 cases filed against gangsters from 1996 till 2016, only 10 cases have ended in conviction because eyewitnesses in most cases turned hostile during trial.
Talking to the media in Hoshiarpur on Thursday, chief minister, however, said PCOCA has been put on hold not for political reasons but to allay apprehensions on its misuse. He said the advocate general has been asked to review the draft and introduce necessary safeguards against the possible misuse of the act. “We do not want to leave any lacunae,” he said, adding: “It is imperative to adopt such a law to curb the organised crime.”
However, a section of the ruling alliance is worried about the negative political fallout of the proposed bill. “It will give a handle to our political opponents at a time when elections are round the corner,” said Mittal.
The proposal of the act is expected to be discussed afresh in the next cabinet meeting. On the cabinet’s green signal, the state assembly will pass the legislation before it is sent for the President’s assent.
The process is unlikely to be completed before the expiry of the SAD-BJP government’s tenure in January next. “A similar act passed by the Gujarat assembly has been awaiting President’s assent for a decade. So, piloting the POCOCA could be a futile exercise,” said Mittal.
Mittal’s skepticism is shared by Akalis too. Agriculture minister Tota Singh suggested an all-party meeting to discuss the PCOCA proposal and to take opposition on board before clearing it.