Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002
|Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002|
|Parliament of India|
|An Act to make provisions for the prevention of, and for Sealing with,the terrorist activities and for matters connected therewith.|
|Citation||Act No. 15 of 2002|
|Enacted by||Joint session of Parliament|
|Date passed||26 March 2002|
|Date assented to||28 March 2002|
|Date repealed||21 September 2004|
|Prevention of Terrorism (Amendment) Act, 2003 (Act No. 4 of 2004)|
|Prevention of Terrorism (Repeal) Act, 2004 (Act No. 26 of 2004)|
The Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 (POTA) was an Act passed by the Parliament of India in 2002, with the aim of strengthening anti-terrorism operations. The act was enacted due to several terrorist attacks that took place in India especially the attack on the Parliament. The act replaced the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) of 2001 and the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) (1985–95), and was supported by the governing National Democratic Alliance. The act was repealed in 2004 by the United Progressive Alliance coalition.
The bill was defeated in the Rajya Sabha (the upper house) by a 113-98 vote, but was passed in a joint session (425 Ayes and 296 Nos), as the Lok Sabha (lower house) has more seats. It was only the third time that a bill was passed by a joint session of both houses of parliament.
The act defined what a "terrorist act" and a "terrorist" is, and granted special powers to the investigating authorities described under the act. To ensure certain powers were not misused and human rights violations would not take place, specific safeguards were built into the act.
Provisions similar to TADA
Analogous to the provisions contained in TADA, the law provided that a suspect could be detained for up to 180 days without the filing of chargesheet in court. It also allowed law enforcement agencies to withhold the identities of witnesses, and to treat a confession made to the police as an admission of guilt. Under regular Indian law, a person can deny such confessions in court, but not under POTA. However the law did have some safeguards. A bail ruling or verdict from a Special Court constituted under this act could be appealed to a bench of two judges of the High Court of the same jurisdiction. Also unlike TADA, it had no provision to allow preventive detention.
The provisions in the act mentioned the possibility of both state and central review committees, but offered few details as to their formation or use. As the act began to be widely misused by the state governments, the central government finally established a review committee to hear individual cases related to this act. At first, the committee functioned in a purely advisory capacity.
In December 2003, by an overwhelming majority, India’s legislature amended the act with an ordinance designed to expand the scope of judicial review. The new ordinance gave review commissions the authority to review the prima facie case of an “aggrieved person” and issue orders binding on the state government and police. Though the amendment was an improvement on the purely advisory capacity of the initial review committee because it enhanced the power of judicial review, the central review committee remained largely impotent, as it could not initiate an investigation absent an initial complaint and lacked clearly delineated investigatory powers. Moreover, the review committee’s resources were limited, and it operated under no regulated time-frame. Without sufficient autonomy, resources, or guidelines, the committee was an illusory safeguard.
Given the review committee’s limitations, only the grievances of those persons with political connections to the central government were likely to be heard. Further, even with political pressure from the central government and a favorable advisory opinion by the review committee, Tamil Nadu detained Vaiko for over four months without charge, and an additional fourteen months after charging him before granting bail.
Impact and repeal
Once the Act became law, many reports surfaced of the law being grossly abused. POTA was arbitrarily used to crack down political opponents. Only four months after its enactment, state law enforcement officers had arrested 250 people nationwide under the Act, and the number was steadily increasing. A mere eight months later, seven states applying POTA had arrested over 940 people, at least 560 of whom were languishing in jail. Several prominent persons like Vaiko were arrested under the act.
On October 7, 2004, the Union Cabinet under UPA government approved the repeal of the act. The act was repealed by passing Prevention of Terrorism (Repeal) Act, 2004. NDA asked UPA to introduce the Act again, but Congress criticized it and did not pass the Act.
Prominent POTA cases
- Vaiko, a prominent Tamil politician, was controversially arrested under the POTA for his support to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
- S.A.R. Geelani, a lecturer at Delhi University, was sentenced to death by a special POTA court for his alleged role in the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament. He was later acquitted on appeal by the Delhi Bench of the High Court on a legal technicality.
- Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami group, arrested under POTA.
- Raghuraj Pratap Singh, a.k.a. Raja Bhaiya, a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Kunda, India was arrested on the orders of then Chief Minister, Mayawati Kumari. He was sent to jail under POTA.
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