Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002
|Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2016|
|Parliament of India|
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Joint session of Parliament
26 March 2002
28 March 2002
21 September 2004
The Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 (POTA) was an Act passed by the Parliament of India in 2002, with the objective of strengthening anti-terrorism operations. The Act was enacted due to several terrorist attacks that were being carried out in India and especially in response to 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 The Act was repealed in 2004 by the United Progressive Alliance coalition.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 constituted a "terrorist act" and who a "terrorist" was, and granted special powers to the investigating authorities described under the Act. In order to ensure that discretionary powers granted to the investigating agencies were not misused and human rights violations were not committed, 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 confessions made to the police admissible in evidence. Under the provisions of criminal law in India, a person could deny such confessions, in court, but not under POTA. However the law did have some safeguards. Any decision on bail petitions or the verdict of the special courts constituted under this Act could be appealed from, to a division bench of the High Court having 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 came into force, many reports surfaced of the law being grossly abused. POTA was alleged to have been arbitrarily used to target 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 where POTA was in force, 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 7 October 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 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 High Court on a legal technicality.
- Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami group was arrested under POTA.
- Raghuraj Pratap Singh, a.k.a. Raja Bhaiya, a Member of the Legislative Assembly from Kunda, India was arrested on the orders of then Chief Minister, Mayawati. He was sent to jail under POTA.
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