The Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) is meant to deal with crimes like subversion, insurgency and terrorism.
Terrorist activities have endangered the very existence of law and order especially when terrorism is being sponsored by country’s unfriendly neighbor. Fear of crime is all pervasive and there is hardly any citizen who is happy the way the Govt. handles the criminals. Hence to deal with the hard core criminals on 2nd of April 2002 the prevention of Terrorism Bill was passed in a joint sitting of the two house of parliament which received the presidential assent and came into force with immediate effect. The prevention of Terrorism Act is meant to deal with crimes like subversion, insurgency and terrorism. It replaces the ordinance promulgated earlier in October 2001 and again in December 2001.
An act committed with any lethal weapon comes under purview of POTA. The act provides capital punishment for terrorist killings, special courts to deal with terrorist cases and gives powers to police to intercept communication which could be later presented as evidence in court. Offences include inviting support for a terrorist organization, addressing a gathering or a mob of terrorism sympathizers or assisting in arranging a meeting where support is invited or expressed for a terrorist’s organization. POTA provides for the seizure of properties of the terrorist or terrorist organizations. Suspects can be detained under POTA for a period of six months without being charged and for three more months with the permission of a special judge. Confessions made to a police officer under specified conditions are admissible under law.
To avoid misuse of this act some safeguards have been provided such as-
- Investigation of an accused detained under POTA can be carried out only by a deputy superintendent of police or a higher officer.
- Confession made to the police must be received within 48 hours before a magistrate who may, send the accused for medical test if there is complaint of torture.
- The accused may have a legal representative with him for part of interrogation.
- Police officers are liable to be prosecuted for misuse and abuse of authority and victims of such case may have to be paid compensation.
It is interesting to note that prevention of Terrorism Bill was a coatroversial one. The ruling party presented the bill and got it passed by the parliament on 18th March, 2002 but it was turned down by Rajya Sabha on 21st March, 2002 because here the opposition parties were in majority. In view of the urgency and importance of the Bill president of India was request to convene a joint meeting of the two houses and in accordance with Article 108 of the constitution of India Mr. K.R. Narrayanan the then president of India convened a joint meeting of the two houses, the parliament and the Rajya Sabha. Thus the bill was passed with 425 members voting in favour of the bill and 296 against it. It may be mentioned here that in the past history of more than 50 years it was only for the third time that a joint meeting of the two houses had to be convened. The previous two occasions were first in 1961 for passing the Dowry prohibitions and second in 1978 for passing the Banking Service Commission (Repeal) bill.
It may be added that joint session of the two house provided under Article 108 of the constitution is an instrument to end a deadlock arising out of differences of opinion between the two houses in matter of passing some legislation. Such circumstances are:
- When one house passes a bill and the other rejects it.
- If the two houses disagree on the amendment to be made in a bill.
- If a houses does not pass a bill even after six months from its receipt, and
- If the bill concerned is not a money or Constitution Amendment bill.
POTA is binding on all states as the legal and constitutional experts hold. Criminal laws are under the concurrent list, however POTA will have to be enforced by the states that may either adopt it fully or enact their own laws consistent with the provisions POTA.
Legal advantages of POTA are:
- POTA extends to the whole of India where as the Indian penal Code (IPC) is not applicable to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
- Under POTA police remand can be secured up to 30 days whereas under IPC it can be granted only up to 15 days.
- Under POTA time for filling of charge sheet may extend up to 180 days whereas charge sheet under IPC must be filed within 60 to 90 days.
- Under POTA confessions made before a police officer of the rank of superintendent of police are admissible in court of law while confessions before police under IPC are not admissible.
- Unlike IPC, POTA admits as evidence interception of phone calls, e-mails SMS message etc.
POTA may be defined as a weapon against terrorism. According to prime Minister Shree Atal Bihari Vajpayee POTA is in interest of the nations and is a weapon to fight terrorism. The law was essential in view of the changed scenario of security in face of cross border terrorism in the country. State sponsorcal cross-border terrorism is far more dangerous than an open war. According to the Law Minister, Mr. Arun Jaitly the country has witnessed 61,000 civilian deaths on account of state sponsored cross-border terrorism against 5480 army casualties in four wars. POTA will help face this cross border terrorism. POTA is accordance with UN Resolution 1373 of September 2001 which calls upon all member nations to promulgate special laws to deal with terrorist activities.
It may also be pointed out the POTA has certain definite advantages over TADA which lapsed in 1995. It would help secure conviction of the terrorist accused. POTA goes much ahead of TADA by holding the funding of terrorist crimes as an equally terrorist act. Any person or person who associates himself with a banned organization or with person or persons in terrorist activities would be considered a terrorist. All the six safeguards prescribed by the Supreme Court against TADA have been incorporated in POTA and finally the misuse of POTA have been incorporated in POTA and finally the misuse of POTA can be prevented by a sensitive judiciary, vigilant press and necessary legislation.
Further, the provision of POTA will prevent people from taking to terrorism. It will keep moderates away from the path of terrorism. In view of the high degree of sophistication achieved by the terrorist outfits enactment of POTA was the minimum necessity of the day.
But there are critics who hold that POTA would be a set-back to the protection and promotion of evil liberties and human rights. Some legal experts hold that POTA was not challenged in the Supreme Court by three petitions which have been admitted by the Supreme Court. The petitioners apprehend that there might be misuse of POTA as was in the case of TADA whereby that 76000 arrests were made and conviction had amounted to only 0.41 percent. But the Govt. has its own justification such as general consensus, enactment of similar laws in the United States and Pakistan and passing of the bill by the joint session of the parliament and extensive and exhaustive debate on the issue which naturally represents public opinion a true democracy.