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Terrorism has to go at all costs

Terrorism has to go at all costs

Author: Arun Jaitley
Publication: Times of India
Date: December 9, 2001

In the last 15 years, we have lost 61,000 civilians and 8,700 security personnel to terrorism. Compare this to the number of lives lost in the four wars India has fought: 5,400. What we have lost to terrorism, which we regard as low-intensity conflict, is several times more than what we lost in those high-intensity wars.

In the last 15 years, 5,80,000 people have been rendered homeless and we have spent Rs 45,000 crores on anti-insurgency efforts and rehabilitation of para military forces. The expenditure has increased 26 times in the last decade. Terrorism has become an economic and social burden, and erodes faith in democratic institutions.

Most liberal western democracies, with not even a fraction of the terrorist problem we face, have strong anti-terrorist laws. It is ironical that we should still be debating.

An anti-terrorist law needs five components. First, making monetary assistance to terrorists an offence. Second, no one should be allowed to retain profits of crime. So assets acquired out of terrorism need to be confiscated. These laws have been functioning for years.

Third, provision for banning terrorist organisations. This provision is almost identical to the British law. England, acting on the basis of this law and upon our request, has banned most organisations. Isn't it ironical that we ourselves are without a proper system to do the same? Fourth, interception. In a country where the conviction rate is only 6.5 per cent, intercepts are essential and must be treated as admissible evidence.

Fifth, a special procedure for trying terrorists. Bails should be made more difficult and confessions to the police treated as admissible evidence. Terrorist trials ought to get precedence over other trials.

The Congress' argument against Poto is that it may be misused, like TADA was when they were in power! We must learn from it and plug the loopholes: Confiscation of property and banning of organisations must be subject to review; To ensure that intercepts are not misused, they will go through a review committee headed by a high court judge; A person making a confession will have to be produced before the judge within 48 hours, who will determine whether it was voluntary or otherwise. In any case, it's the state governments who will have to enforce the law.

The next argument is that the Opposition was not consulted. But the Law Commission draft was circulated, there was a national debate, and suggestions by the NHRC and the Supreme Court were incorporated. Then, virtually every Congress government supported it. MP and Maharashtra made good suggestions. The intercept chapter was added at Maharashtra's suggestion. After all this, you turn around and say we don't require this law. The argument is that if you arm the policeman with too much power, he will violate human rights. The truth is if you don't, but expect him to deliver, violations will be much more.

The amendments: Nothing has been changed except the clause the media objected to. But, officially, I can't say anything until Monday when the issue is discussed in Parliament. The PM consulted the opposition parties. The Home minister had a meeting with state chief ministers. If we don't make changes you say it is draconian, if we do, you say it's toothless.

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