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'POTA is a good legislation'
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July 26, 2006
In the first instalment of a two-part interview, leading criminal lawyer Niteen V Pradhan said he had decided not to defend the accused in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case any more because he "felt cheated" by the minority community.

In the second part of the candid discussion with Sumit Bhattacharya, Pradhan dissects the now-defunct Prevention of Terrorism Act.

He agrees POTA was executed wrongly, and that atrocities were committed. But it was a necessary legislation, he argues.

Part I: 'My country does not deserve this'

You said you had written to the accused. Has there been any reaction from them?

I don't know because I have not gone to the court and they are not entitled to talk to the press. But I have told them that whatever money I have received I want to pay in charity in the next two to four years. My conscience is clear.

This is my way of registering protest against the community who, one day, must peep into itself why they are breeding terrorists. All the terrorists are Muslims -- why? They must address this issue someday.

The minority community feels they are made scapegoats whenever there is an act of terrorism.

If this is so, if this is the attitude, it is unfortunate. If that is their accusation, fantastic! They feel they are being targeted in India! I can understand in Pakistan Hindus are saying this, in Saudi Arabia Hindus are saying this. Arre what freedom they don't have here?

They say the police treat them differently.

Do you treat them differently? Can you justify that question to me?

I don't treat them differently, they say the police do.

Why are you asking me a question you yourself are not convinced about?

I have friends from the minority community, and they do feel targeted.

Fantastic. Then tell them to encourage themselves and encourage their community. Let them say Hindus in India are worse than Hitler [Images]. What logic!

Just changing track a little, after July 11 there is a call -- especially from the political Opposition -- to bring back POTA. As a lawyer, do you think special legislation is required to tackle terrorism?

Not only special legislation, we require a special investigating force. Which has been ignored by successive governments -- those who brought TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act) and those who brought POTA.

Frankly, I am doubtful about the level of intelligence of our politicians. India is not being ruled by politicians, India is being ruled by bureaucrats. I am also doubtful what kind of depth these bureaucrats have, because they draft the laws, and they get these politicians to sign them.

POTA is a good legislation. It was really necessary. But POTA is being addressed with an atrocity in the execution of that Act. I fully justify that allegation.

That it was executed wrongly?

Yes, it was not executed properly. They are committing atrocities while executing POTA. That does not mean that in all the cases they are misapplying POTA and committing atrocities. There are few genuine cases where POTA is really necessary. For example, the attack on Parliament: According to me POTA was really necessary. But only because there are atrocities being committed by the people who are executing that, and therefore that Act should be repealed, no. You have to find an answer for that.

'Under POTA there was so much prejudice against Muslims'

They should create a special force for investigation under that Act, for having a chargesheet under that Act. These investigations should be done by special officers not only from the police but from the forensic science department, some lawyers and some retired judges also. Not the paid lawyers of the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) -- I am again having doubts about their ability -- (there should be) some good lawyers on the panel who are criminal practitioners and constitutional practitioners.

They should review the cases whether the application (of POTA) is correctly made or not.

What benefit does POTA give the security forces?

The most important aspect: The statement made before the police officer is made admissible (in court).

In terrorist cases, already the accused is indoctrinated. A Naxalite is a hardcore Marxist. These jihadis, they are hardcore Muslims. For both of them, their community -- those Marxists and the Muslims -- is their priority. They are ready to die for it. You will not find many approvers.

Therefore, whenever the custodial interrogation is carried out, the statements are recorded, which are certified as voluntary by a judicial authority. I think that is the only way to unfold the conspiracy and catch the culprits.

This power should not be given to an ordinary police officer because in India, the bureaucracy tend to exploit the powers given to them by the statutes to the fullest. Essentially for their own benefit, not the benefit of society. And this is the whole trouble.

This is why statements made before the police officer were made inadmissible in law. Rightly so, because the first victim would be the poorest of the poor, the first beneficiary would be the richest of the rich. Because today, the police department is 100 per cent corrupt. The bureaucracy is 100 per cent corrupt. Because they know what power they have. They know what power they wield, and how to bend it.

Therefore, we require an independent, special investigating agency with the power to investigate outside India as well.

Coming back to your decision not to defend the 1993 blast accused, it is a moral decision. But you have also defended Abu Salem.

And I am continuing to defend him. You are not aware of the facts in Abu Salem's [Images] case. Abu Salem was brought to India under a New York convention of the United Nations. By 2001 -- particularly after 9/11 -- all the countries signed that convention. It deals with terrorists. Because there is no extradition treaty between India and Portugal, Salem was projected as a terrorist and a core accused in the 1993 bomb blasts case.

Three types of evidence have been furnished by the prosecutor: Number 1, approvers. Number 2, statements of eyewitness. Number 3, confessions of the accused.

None of them has even remotely suggested the participation of Abu Salem in the bomb blasts.

You are saying Abu Salem was not involved in the blasts.

Not at all.

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