A law certain not to work

A law certain not to work

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has proposed a new “law" to tackle terrorism. It does not even qualify to be called old wine in a new bottle. It will have no effect in deterring existing and potential terrorists. The same problem hounds the National Investigation Agency (NIA), formed to probe terrorism cases.

For the record, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2008, tabled in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, provides for a detention period of up to 180 days without bail for terror suspects. But that’s about all it does.

Tougher provisions to tackle terrorism, such as admission of evidence given to a police officer in a court of law and putting the burden of proof of innocence on terror suspects, have been rendered so mild as to make them meaningless. Clearly, UPA constituents are fearful of alienating Muslims in the coming general election. That political consideration resulted in these provisions being omitted.

NIA, once established, will have no power to investigate a case without the approval of the Union home ministry. The Union government will have 15 days to take a decision in this respect.

These proposals show that the UPA has not grasped the essence of the problem: quick, apolitical decision-making, and investigation and prosecution of such suspects. As has been argued before in these columns, the law has lost both its punitive and deterrent value. Unless these are restored, no purpose will be served in wasting paper, time and taxpayers’ money in useless debates in Parliament.

Given the ideological milieu in which terrorism sustains itself, considerations of minorities being abused by such laws are baseless. Terrorists of the kind who attacked Mumbai and other Indian cities have no fear of losing their lives during such carnages or at the hands of the law. But stringent laws do have the effect of pushing back those potential terrorists who have not crossed the ideological line to nihilism. At some stage of their career in destruction, all terrorists pass through this zone of indetermination. Punishments, such as the death penalty to those convicted of such crimes, are sure to deter some, if not all, of the threshold recruits. The government refuses to heed this logic.

Can the new law and NIA deter terrorists? Tell us at views@livemint.com