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Terror threat persists

Publication Date : 06-08-2014


 Terrorism did not fade away with the advent of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government at the Centre. The Pune terror strike on 10 July, that injured three persons including a police officer, did not cause consternation for the simple reason that there was no death or destruction on a large scale. 

Every such incident is a precursor to the worst to come. In the month of May, there was an explosion on a train in Tamil Nadu. It was suspected to be a terrorist act. Both the cases remain unresolved and the accused are absconding.  Prompt arrest and remand can prevent further  terrorist strikes.

Metropolitian cities were roiled by such outrages during the 10 years of Congress-led UPA (United Progressive Alliance) rule.  The tough talk of the ruling BJP suggests that terrorism will be tackled with uppermost priority. 

The government must strengthen the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act of 1967 and revamp the functioning of the Intelligence Bureau and other investigating agencies under the Home Ministry.  Second, the government needs to clear (not withhold assent of the President) the pending anti-terrorism legislation passed by State legislatures.  Third, the  Centre, as custodian of the service conditions of the IPS cadre, must promptly amend the rules and regulations that promote the honest and meritorious. 

Time-barred promotions have played havoc with the efficiency and morale of the honest. In order to make the police leadership accountable for the lapses of the past decade, weeding out the dead-wood is another option.  The government needs to fix accountability for the terrorist outrages which have claimed thousands of innocent lives in the past decade. As yet, there is no concrete evidence of application of mind.

As a follow-up measure, the Union government can take the initiative and make an overall assessment of the ground situation. This would mean (a) review of the total number of unsolved (undetected) cases; (b) cases solved, but the main accused still at large; (c) botched-up investigations; (d) tardy prosecution and trials; (e) unwarranted acquittal of terrorists by courts; (f) commutation of prison sentences of terrorists by the States; and (g) invocation of the Preventive Detention law by state governments. 

A sense of direction is imperative for  investigations, arrests, prosecution and detention.  "Field action" in the form of search and identification of new terrorist formations/cells is a step forward, followed by seizure of banned firearms,  explosives and objectionable literature. 

The terror suspects needs to kept on the run and not allowed to organise and collect arms and explosives. Further, the "support structure" of active terrorists  needs to be identified, recorded and possible legal action initiated. This is "preventive" legal action. 

It also involves "legal action" by invoking the preventive detention laws if need be by amending the Constitution.  Article 22 of the Constitution drafted more than 60 years ago, when there was no trace of terrorism and Maoism,  provides for detention for not more than three months unless an advisory board recommends extension. 

The  higher judiciary can also quash detentions for procedural lapses.  With such a weak constitutional provision, the fight against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism becomes a still more challenging task for the police and security agencies.Terrorism, like corruption, needs to be tackled in a pro-active manner.

"Reactive" action is inadequate; it can have fatal consequences in terms of public peace and  the national cause. One cannot delink police action against terrorism from its overall handling of "traditional" crimes.  

According to media reports,   the Pune explosion was triggered by LED placed on the stolen motor-cycle by terrorists.  An estimated 25 per cent of these vehicles are seized in Maharashtra, which means that 75 per cent  of  motor-cycles are not recovered, let alone the suspects being arrested. 

Similarly, cars are used but seldom seized.  A car thief, Afzal Usmani who was arrested by  the Mumbai police in 2008, confessed responsibility for all the explosions ignited by the Indian Mujahideen since 2005.  Therefore, traditional policing needs to improve phenomenally.  The devil lies in the detail.  We cannot call them insignificant.  Had these bikes and cars been recovered and the accused arrested, it might have been possible to prevent the recurrence of terrorist strikes.

A sort of police "annual history" of crimes needs to be put in place. It should be drafted by a "committee" of police professionals, civil society members and media representatives.  The crime history, if  drafted truthfully, will expose the acts of negligence, willful omissions and commissions, and shortcomings of the police.  

Faulty investigations and prosecution, failure to arrest the accused, unwarranted acquittals by courts need to be placed on record to provide a true picture of police performance. 

At any given point of time in the last two or three decades, the police cannot boast of more than 40 per cent of properties recovered and an equal percentage of conviction of the accused. This means that 60 per cent of the crimes as well as the accused evade accountability.  The political leadership needs to reflect  and act to save citizens' lives and properties.

The Chief Ministers ought to be briefed every day by the DGP and the Commissioners of Police. We cannot claim our democracy to be functional if the state of criminal justice is so pathetic. The percentage of conviction in rape cases is said to be 26 per cent and under other heads of crime, except in petty cases of confession by the accused, the conviction may not exceed 40 per cent. An estimated  60 per cent of the criminals go scot-free.

Bringing down the crime rate, honest registration of offences, improving the quality of investigation, effective prosecution and  speedy conviction rate are essential if threats by Maoists and terrorists are to be dealt with.  In the name of socio-economic justice, criminal justice should not be neglected.

(The writer is a former Inspector-General of Police and author)


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