Despair in the face of terror

Joginder Singh
( Former Director – CBI)

A politician thinks only of the next election but a statesman thinks about the next generation. Unfortunately, statesmanship is missing in our politics. At present, politicians are more than willing to let the people lay down their lives for this country instead of rectifying the situation. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram said in Parliament on May 6 that the conviction of Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone terrorist caught alive in the 26/11 attacks, proved that our present laws were adequate to deal with the menace of terrorism. But he forgot to mention the acquittal of Kasab’s two local contacts.

Mr Chidambaram, while addressing the Intelligence Bureau on December 23, 2009, had said, “A billion people felt they had been humiliated and the country had been brought to its knees by a small band of terrorists.” While the nature of the response to different kinds of terror would indeed be different and nuanced, the National Counter-Terrorism Centre’s mandate should be to respond to violence unleashed by any group — be it an insurgent group in the North-East or the Maoist terrorists in the heartland of India.

But unless it is given legal powers and the laws accordingly amended, how can the NCTC function? Incidentally, police forces across the country have around four lakh vacancies. These vacancies not only need to be filled as soon as possible, but the recruits also have to be properly trained and equipped. It is better to have no policemen rather than make do with bad policemen.

It goes without saying that much more needs to be done in order to strengthen the police system in our country. But without the necessary changes in the law, all efforts at strengthening our police forces will amount to nothing. All over the world countries have scrapped their old, impractical laws in view of the changing times. Hence, there is no reason for our Government to hold on to our archaic legislations related to national security.

The Supreme Court has declared on several occasions that speedy trials ensure the right to life and liberty. But such trials continue to elude us. Justice delayed is not only justice denied but justice assassinated over and over again. Former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan, who retired last week, had this to say about the acquittals in the 26/11 terror case: “India should consider putting in place a tough anti-terror law that can enable and help the probe agencies to crack terror cases, since in most cases the conspiracies are hatched in a foreign land and evidence collection is tough.”

When asked whether the acquittals in the 26/11 case could possibly have resulted due to the inability of our ordinary criminal laws to appreciate the hard-to-come-by evidence, the Chief Justice said: “Most countries have drastic laws to deal with terrorism-related offences. Even Britain has it. So it is time for Parliament to debate the need of a suitable anti-terror law for India.”

Another former Chief Justice of India, while addressing a conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of the High Courts on March 11, 2006, had said: “The country’s justice delivery system appears to be on the verge of the collapse. Not much has been done for the improvement of the investigative and prosecution machinery. Significant suggestions for the separation of the investigative wing from law enforcement and order duties and changes in the rules of evidence still lie unattended. The public outrage over the failure of the criminal justice system in some high-profile cases must shake us all up into realisation that something needs to be urgently done to revamp the whole process, though we must steer clear of knee-jerk reactions, remembering that law is a serious business.”

The Law Commission in its 177th report said: “The experience shows that where the accused happens to be rich and/or influential persons, or members of mafia gangs, the witnesses very often turn hostile, either because of the inducements offered to them or because of the threats given to them. To protect public interest and to safeguard the interests of society, measures need to be devised to eliminate, as far as possible, scope for such happenings.”

The Malimath Committee appointed by the Government of India in 2001 to suggest reforms supported the views of the Law Commission and observed, “Unfortunately, there is no dearth of witnesses who come to the courts and give false evidence with impunity. This is a major cause of the failure of the system. There is no law to give protection to witnesses who are subjected to threats unlike witness protection laws available in other countries.”

To say that the present system is adequate flies in the face of ground realities. The conviction of a single terrorist after 550 days is nothing to be proud of. There are far too many escape routes for the criminals to get away. In the 26/11 attacks, 169 people were killed and injured. It is virtually impossible to find an independent witness in such a case. The same holds true in the case of the massacre of 76 CRPF personnel by Maoists in the forests of Dantewada in April.

An American report on terrorism in India states that our fight against terrorists continues to be hampered by an outdated legal system and an over-burdened and ill-trained police force.

If we are to win in the fight against terrorism we must upgrade our police system and do away with all our archaic laws and procedures.
Corruption within the police needs to be completely weeded out and we should not allow vote-bank politics to come in the way of our anti-terror efforts. Also, we should not be apologetic about adopting harsh measures to fight anti-national elements. As far as the statement of the Home Minister that our present laws are enough is concerned, it is best to repeat what Nikita Khrushchev once said: “Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.”