Sunday, August 6, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Govt drops federal agency plan
To consult parties on anti-terrorist law
Tribune News Service
and Agencies

NEW DELHI, Aug 5 — Bowing to opposition from states, the Centre tonight dropped its move to set up a federal agency to tackle crimes against the state but decided to hold consultations with major political parties on enactment of a new anti-terrorist law.

“One issue that was opposed by most of the states was the setting up of a Central enforcement agency to fight crimes like acts of sedition, hijacking, cyber crimes and circulation of fake currency on the ground that this would encroach upon their area of functioning,” Home Minister L.K. Advani told mediapersons at the conclusion of the first-ever conference of Chief Ministers on internal security here.

Replying to questions on the Central agency issue, he said “since the NDA government was committed to devolution of greater powers, we should not even be seen encroaching into the domain of states. In view of the opposition, we have decided not to pursue the move any further for the time-being”.

On the proposed Prevention of Terrorism Bill (POTA) drafted by the Law Commission, Mr Advani said a majority of states favoured the move but demanded certain safeguards to prevent human rights violations.

The Home Minister said in the light of the reservations expressed by the National Human Rights Commission on the new anti-terrorist draft Bill, the Centre would discuss and examine further the issue with all concerned including major political parties before any final shape was given.

States ruled by the BJP and its allies joined others in strongly opposing the proposal for a Central law and a central enforcement agency to deal with certain specified crimes, saying it would encroach on the rights of states.

Maintaining that the subject was strictly within the domain of state governments and that there should not be any encroachment by the Centre, they said the Centre’s proposal would lead to a lot of interference in their affairs.

Inaugurating the conference earlier, the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, made it clear that there would not be any let up in the fight against terrorism and suggested formulation of a national strategy to meet the challenges to internal security.

“There shall be no let up in our determined fight against those who seek to harm India’s unity and integrity,” Mr Vajpayee said.

Referring to the Centre’s offer to initiate a dialogue with militant groups in Jammu and Kashmir, the Prime Minister asserted that “our initiative for a dialogue with anybody who is willing to sit across the table and eschew violence in Jammu and Kashmir will by no means undermine our determination to fight terrorism.”

Accusing Pakistan of indulging in cross-border terrorism as an instrument of State policy to destabilise India, he said “the threat that we face today is nothing but state-sponsored terrorism by our neighbour.”

Stating that Islamabad’s aim “is not confined to Jammu and Kashmir’s separation from India”, Mr Vajpayee said the changed nature, magnitude and dimension of the threat to our internal security, especially after the Kargil conflict, necessitated that the Centre and the states pooled their resources to formulate a national strategy and adopt effective tactics.

He advocated creation of a central agency to handle subjects like waging of war against the state, aiming to dismember the country, espionage, cyber crime etc.

Responding to a plea by Home Minister L.K. Advani, the Prime Minister announced raising allocation of funds for modernisation of the police force from Rs 200 crore in the last financial year to Rs 1,000 crore annually.

Mr Vajpayee assured the state governments that the Centre was prepared to extend all possible help in dealing with threats to internal security.

Speaking at the meeting, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal emphasised on a “greater and liberal” central approach in helping the states perform their duty towards the national cause and expressed his opposition to the creation of a central agency to deal with law and order.

“Punjab has suffered extensively due to the militants’ activities in which more than 18,000 civilians and 2000 police personnel lost their lives. We have paid a very heavy price,” he said, adding “I consider the main reasons being continuous discrimination by the central government towards the state over the decades.”

Mr Badal said the Centre should allocate adequate funds to modernise the state forces so that these were able to meet the challenges posed by modern gadgets available with the law offenders in a befitting manner.

Stressing that the law and order subject was a state subject and states should be allowed to handle the same, Mr Badal opposed any attempt to make it a central subject and creation of a central agency to handle this.

“The attempt should be to strengthen the state police forces and not to create unnecessary laws which can come into direct conflict with the state polity,” he stressed.

He strongly opposed the draft Prevention of Terrorism Bill, 2000, saying special laws like the TADA were not required and “we should set a statute which cannot be used to meet political ends.”

Moreover, Mr Badal said the present laws were enough to deal with terrorist activities.

On the other hand, the Haryana Chief Minister, Mr Om Prakash Chautala, stressing on the need for central help to strengthen and modernise state police forces, favoured a central agency to deal with subjects like waging of war against the state, espionage and cyber crime and also approved of the “controversial” Prevention of Terrorism Bill, 2000.

“The strength of internal security depends upon the law and order situation. It is, therefore, necessary to modernise the police force of states to improve the law and order situation,” Mr Chautala said.

Favouring the proposal for establishing a central enforcement agency for investigating criminal cases of national and international importance, the Haryana Chief Minister said it should be made mandatory to obtain the permission of the state government concerned before starting investigations by any such investigating agency.

On the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, he said there was a great need for such a law but at the same time it was necessary to check the misuse of such legal provisions.

Stating that Haryana played a crucial role in fighting terrorism when militancy was at its peak in the neighbouring Punjab, he demanded that the Centre should give a financial assistance of Rs 2,000 crore to Haryana on the pattern of other states to compensate for the loss suffered by the state during the days of terrorism.

“The Centre has waived the loan totalling Rs 5,800 crore given to Punjab to fight terrorism. Similarly, Himachal Pradesh was given a special grant of Rs 200 crore. I seek his (PM’s) indulgence to protect the interests of Haryana also,” Mr Chautala said.

The Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr Prem Kumar Dhumal, demanded strengthening the Special Security Bureau (SSB) in border areas of the state.

“Geographical location of Himachal makes it vulnerable to terrorist activities and the Centre should create more posts of the SSB in the border districts of Chamba, Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti, Kulu and Kangra,” Mr Dhumal said.

Recollecting past attacks on innocent people in the state, including the gunning down of 38 persons in Chamba by Kashmiri militants in 1998, he said the “threat of spill-over of terrorist acitivities in the state is very much there.”

Mr Dhumal said though the state government had taken up all security measures to counter any possible terrorist threat, central assistance was essential to ensure that the militants did not succeed in their nefarious designs.

He expressed concern over drug trafficking by a few Indian and foreign tourists in some parts of Chamba and Kulu district in which hemp-based drugs like ganja and charas were produced and smuggled to other states.

As a preventive measure to counter the menace, the state police and other authorities concerned had taken various steps, including burning of the hemp crop, he said.

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