The POTA games

Watching Arun Jaitley’s interview about POTA, and his criticism of the PM’s idea of a federal investigation agency made me recoil with disgust at the games these political parties play.

POTA was created during the NDA rule in 2002 as a replacement for the much maligned TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act) which was allowed to expire in 1995 during the Narsimha Rao government. It was created not after some major event in India, but after 9/11! Some of POTA’s “features” include:

It allowed the detention of a suspect for up to 180 days without the filing of charges in court. It also allowed law enforcement agencies to withhold the identities of witnesses and treats 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.

180 days! That is 6 months in jail without the court even looking at your case. And, of course, you can be charged based on what was coaxed out of you by police. This had to be the worst combination of the horrors of Indian judicial system - languishing in overcrowded Indian jails for years because either the law or the courts don’t have time to look at you, and of course, our “exceedingly polite” police force.

In a game of political oneupmanship, the current UPA government repealed the act almost immediately on coming to power. Of course, not too many people remember that that was a publicity stint more than genuine concern. You can read why. And here is the summary:

Ofcourse, it was not all bad:

The most important substantive changes between POTA and the amended 1967 UAFA are that those arrested must be brought before a magistrate within 24 hours (not 30 days); confessions given to police officers are inadmissible as evidence; and the presumption of innocence is restored.

Predictably, BJP was left smarting by UPA’s move in renouncing this act. They had been touting this act as one of their biggest “gifts” to the country and to show their anti-terror “credentials”. Also, they treat this as their penance against their stellar role in the greatest capitulation to terrorism that this country(or perhaps, any country in the world) has ever done - Kandahar. I have never been able to forgive them for this, and I doubt too many people would. Yes, the people on the plane were important too, but I am sure that the situation could be handled better, at least better than our foreign minister escorting hard core terrorists to be freed. Particularly, terrorists like Maulana Masood Azhar, who have returned to be one of the biggest pain in this country’s butt - Jaish-e-mohammed.

I cannot but help observing the similarity between the tactics of BJP and the republican party represented by George Bush. Both use fear-mongering to push their agendas. Both are megalomaniacs who want acts like POTA and Patriot to give them unchecked power. And both are unrepentant about their failures (Bush about its Iraq “intelligence failure”, and BJP about its Gujarat riots failure).

My take on all this, is that politicians continue to play their games while we citizens suffer. The need of the hour is not for newer and more draconian laws, or newer agencies who trample on each others’ toes. What we need is major investment into the police system of this country. More pay to the abysmal salary that many of these policemen get(one of the biggest reasons behind small time corruption), saner working conditions, more on-the-job education, and most importantly more people into the force. Thanks to central government funds, Delhi police is quite well off(though it can get much better, of course). But just cross the border of the city, and you can see the marked difference in police force of the neighboring cities. And in the towns and cities outside NCR, police presence is even worse.

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