Thursday, September 18, 2008

What do you need a new law for?

All of us rabbit on when jolted out of sleep. What? Oh my God! How? Switch off the damn AC! Who died? Ouch! etc etc. In the cacophony that follows an earthquake at night, people rush out in their night-time negligee or the lack of them. That’s usual human reaction to sudden shock in deep slumber.

Take for example, the Bharatiya Janata Party. The party has been sleepwalking its years out of power. It wakes up to demand a new law against terrorism, every time it hears a detonation. “We want POTA back”. The Congress had revoked the BJP’s draconian law POTA because the BJP had scrapped Congress’s draconian but very tuneful TADA. The Congress says no to bringing back the draconian POTA but agrees to framing a brand new one. In a display of the “boys will be boys” behaviour the debate has moved from “my toy is better than yours” to “let us have one, a brand new one, yeah!”.

But do we need a new law? Shivraj Patil says no. In these troubled times, it’s difficult to agree with someone so handsome in handling terrorism or intelligence! But I say even Shivraj Patil can be right at times. Outside burping and farting, we have one law or the other against everything we can possibly imagine doing (you must have heterosexual sex even if you are homosexual). We are overburdened with so many laws that one law becomes the loophole for someone caught under the other. Why do we need another one?

Our law sanctions the ultimate: death by hanging. What do you want: skewer a terrorist to death? That bandhgala adorning a neat chamber in North Block said the terrorists behind the 13 September blasts would be handed out stringent punishment under the laws. To punish Terrorist X ‘stringently’ we need to first catch Terrorist X. To catch him, we need an intelligent intelligence infrastructure and well-equipped police officers. We have laws against unlawful activities and against treason, (both Shivraj Patil would like to slap me with), we have acts against carrying arms and explosives, we have MCOCA, which is worse than POTA (it at least had a clause against misuse by police). Our problem is not the lack of a law but the lacunae in law enforcement. India has a pathetic record in conviction. The conviction rate in murder cases in India is just about 7 per cent. So there is a 93 per cent chance of getting away with murder. There are people who blame it on weak laws. But the villain here is the shoddy investigation by an unprofessional bunch of unfit men in khaki. They have their own reasons: too much work, too little pay and little respect.

Manmohan Singh needs to stop thinking about a new law, and start working on how to foolproof the implementation of the existing laws, and most importantly, how to make our police a force that criminals and terrorists fear. The terrorist must not find it easy to plant a bomb. In case, he manages to do that, he doesn’t get away with it. In case he does get away, he is caught. Law comes after that. A well-equipped police force should be able to prove it in the court of law that the terrorist is a terrorist. There are enough laws to hang the cretin. But if you insist on skewering him to death, please draft a new one. The BJP will support.

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