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Security blanket, not a cover-up job

We need a law that permits evidentiary value to statements made before the investigating agency comes to mind, writes Nikhil Kumar.

india Updated: Oct 29, 2008 22:49 IST

The september blasts in Delhi brought back into focus our internal security mechanism. As always, there have been questions about the efficiency of the intelligence agencies, the availability of actionable intelligence and the ability of our legal machinery to act after receiving them. After the blasts, there was again a demand for a special law, with many alleging that the lack of it proves the government’s soft approach to tackling terrorism.

Let us be clear on one thing: no special law can prevent the occurrence of terror attacks. In May 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. Remember, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (Tada) was in force at that time. In December 2001, terrorists attacked Parliament. During this time, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) was in force.

Every time there is a terror-related incident, there is a demand for a special law. Such statements are hurting our counter-terrorism efforts.

The other target is the intelligence machinery. A blanket condemnation is undeserved. Commendable work has been, and is being, done by our intelligence agencies. Since their job demands confidentiality, sometimes they can’t reveal their successes. If such incidents continue to occur, it is because the agencies face a tough job given that the initiative to choose targets and the time to strike rests with the terrorists. However, this should not be used as an excuse.

There are a few other issues that need to be addressed. First, like in other countries, India’s intelligence agencies must get statutory backing. It will not only provide the required muscle to the agencies but also be the basis of proactive operations accompanied with accountability.

Second, the arrests made in the Ahmedabad blast cases show a different trend. Unlike in earlier cases, this time the mastermind and his operatives were Indians. Therefore, the threat assumes graver significance as it requires us to identify such elements and redress their justified grievances.

Third, the investigation of the Ahmedabad blasts cases shows inter-state links. There have been reports saying that inter-state coordination between the investigating agencies has proved helpful. But this may not always be possible or be of the desired quality. In such a scenario, a central agency is best suited for such work.

Besides coordination, there might be a need to take suo motu cognisance in some cases. To do this, there should be a constitutional concept of federal crime and a statutory authority to investigate cases. Perhaps the states have not accepted it, fearing loss of power. This fear may be justified, but it is time this concept is discussed dispassionately keeping in mind the nation’s integrity. We must also define what constitutes a federal crime. It will include only a limited number of crimes and the states will not be denied their privilege to take action against such crimes.

Their objection to a central agency with the authority to take suo motu cognisance of crimes is a misapprehension. We need to address this and obtain their consent to provide a legal basis of what constitutes a federal crime and empower an agency to take suo motu cognisance of such crimes and investigate them.

Fourth, it is important to ensure successful investigation of terrorism-related crime. Apart from bringing the culprits to book, it should also act as a preventive measure. It is for successful investigation of such crime and of its prevention that we may require a special law.

One that permits evidentiary value to statements made before the investigating agency comes to mind. Just this one special law with full safeguards against its misuse as prescribed by the Supreme Court (Kartar Singh vs the State of Punjab) will be helpful.