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|August 14, 2002|
The Rediff Special/ George Iype
Four months after India enacted the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act, where does the country's anti-terrorism drive stand?
The answer, currently, is 257. That is the total number of those arrested and put in jail across the country under the law, according to the Union home ministry.
Home ministry figures reveal it is not in the terrorism-troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir where POTA has been extensively used, but in Jharkhand. This new state of India earns the 'distinction' of detaining the highest number of persons under POTA. While 104 people have been detained under POTA in Jammu and Kashmir, POTA detainees number 113 in Jharkhand. Others in the POTA list are Delhi with 20 detainees; Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu with 10 each. The home ministry has also banned 32 organizations under POTA in the last four months.
But the arrests made under POTA have been steadily going up since March 26, 2002 when Parliament passed the legislation. The latest victim is Tamil Nationalist Movement leader P Nedumaran, a sympathizer of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which is fighting for a Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa ordered Nedumaran's arrest on August 1.
But these days, it is not the terrorists who are paranoid about POTA. It is the country's politicians who are upset at what they call "the cruelty of a law that does not differentiate between friends and foes."
"Look at what the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government has achieved with POTA. No big terrorist has been detained; it is the petty criminals and sympathizers of a particular cause that the government has detained under this draconian law," charges Communist Party of India General Secretary A B Bardhan.
Those arrested under POTA, till the first week of August, stood at 257, this averages out to some two persons getting arrested every day under the anti-terrorism law in India in the last four months.
Who are those detained under POTA, the legislation meant for curbing funding for suspected terrorists, confiscating their property, and allowing for the detention of suspects for up to 90 days without trial? Home ministry records say most of those have been arrested under the anti-terrorism law has not been terrorists in the strict sense of the term. Activists of the People's War Group and Maoist Communist Centre and Kashmir's Hurriyat Conference are some against whom POTA has been extensively used.
A senior home ministry official defended the use of POTA in the eastern state. "Jharkhand has emerged as the number one state with the most POTA arrests because of Maoist extremism there. Fourteen of Jharkhand's 22 districts are so badly affected by Maoist rebels that the state government is strictly enforcing POTA there," pointed out a senior home ministry official. He said nearly 300 people, including 105 policemen, have been killed in Jharkhand because of Maoist extremism in the last two years.
POTA has been in full force for four months, but not a single complaint of the law's misuse has been reported to the home ministry so far. A ministry report submitted in the Lok Sabha recently says that even Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader V Gopalaswamy aka Vaiko, whom the Tamil Nadu police arrested under POTA, has not complained to the ministry. Vaiko was arrested for expressing sympathy for the LTTE.
"Everyone says POTA has been misused against political opponents. But till today our ministry has not got any complaints on any misuse against POTA," Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Vidyasagar Rao pointed out. "We also have not received any complaint from Vaiko regarding POTA," Rao added.
According to Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, the Congress chief whip in the Lok Sabha, that is precisely the problem with POTA. "People like Vaiko and other alliance partners of the Vajpayee government supported the anti-terrorism legislation. Now that the law has been used against Vaiko, he cannot even raise his voice against POTA. It is as simple as that. POTA is simply a cruel law," insisted Das Munshi.
"Every politician in the country would agree POTA is a law that can be misused to settle political scores. The ill-effects of the law is beginning to show," the Congress leader warned.
There could be some truth in Das Munshi's warning. Disturbing questions could haunt the Vajpayee government if the following possibilities are considered:
Congress MP and criminal lawyer R K Anand warns that POTA has a massive potential for misuse, particularly to settle political scores. "The very purpose of POTA was to arrest those who are actively involved in acts of terrorism and secessionism. But I doubt that is in fact happening. What is happening these days is political witch-hunting," he declared.
Design: Rajesh Karkera
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