Friday, March 22, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

POTO Bill defeated in RS
NC abstains; joint sitting likely on March 26
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 21
The government today lost the vote over the Prevention of Terrorism Bill in the Rajya Sabha, with the House adopting by 113 votes to 98 the resolution for disapproval moved by the Congress.

The resolution was put to vote after a marathon discussion of eight hours.

Subsequently, by the same margin, Home Minister L.K. Advani’s motion for taking up the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, 2002, was defeated.

Speaking to reporters after the vote, Rural Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu said the Opposition victory would be shortlived as the government was determined to get the Bill approved through a joint session of Parliament, likely to be convened on March 26.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan said the government’s request to the President for convening of the special joint session, which would be the third in the annals of Indian Parliament, would be sent tomorrow.

The margin of the Opposition victory came as a surprise to the Treasury Benches which were hoping for a close finish. The three-member National Conference and the one-member Lok Tantrik Congress stayed away from the House, to the shock of the Treasury Benches. “This was the only surprise,” Mr Mahajan later said on the outcome of the voting.

Support from non-BJP allies like the AIADMK and the NCP narrowed the margin of defeat for the NDA. There are seven vacancies in the 245-member Upper House.

The BJP had ensured the presence of Lata Mangeshkar while the Opposition had flown in Shabana Azmi for the crucial voting. The Congress brought ailing members, including Leader of the Opposition Manmohan Singh, actor Dilip Kumar, industralist R.P. Goenka, Mr N.K.P. Salve, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad and Karnataka member Rimba Raikar. Arrangements were also made to air-lift some members from the North-East.

Ten members, five each from the ruling NDA and five from the Opposition, could not be present in the House as they were abroad. Minister for Disinvestment Arun Shourie, Ms Savita Sharda (both BJP), Mr P. Narayanan (AIADMK), and Mr Santosh Bagrodia (Congress), besides Deputy Chairperson Najma Heptulla, were among those on foreign visits.

Akali Dal leader Gurcharan Singh Tohra, who opposed the Bill, walked out before the voting.

The lone Trinamool Congress-backed independent member, Jayanta Bhatacharya, stayed away in line with the party’s abstention in the Lok Sabha. The four-member BSP also stayed away.

After the defeat of the Bill, jubilant Opposition members shook hands among themselves and went to Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee to greet him on their success. The Bill had already been passed by the Lok Sabha.

Mr Advani’s spirited defence of the Bill and his last-minute appeal to the Opposition to support the measure made no difference to those opposed to the legislation.

Replying to the debate in which over 25 speakers participated, Mr Advani said POTO had been designed as a step to meet the challenge of state-sponsored cross-border terrorism. He said the government was not claiming that the Bill would defeat terrorism but it would help improve the rate of conviction for crimes committed by terrorists.

Appealing to the House to allow the Bill to be passed, Mr Advani said several states, including Maharashtra, had adopted similar measures to fight organised crime.

Even in the case of POTO, many states had given suggestions to improve the proposed law and that these had been incorporated, he said.

Calling upon the Opposition not to link POTO with secularism, Mr Advani said BJP was among the parties which had launched an agitation against TADA since it had been misused against farmers in Gujarat.

He said out of the 26 persons booked under POTO in Jammu and Kashmir, 10 had been released on bail which proved that the proposed law was not as harsh as was being made out to be by the Opposition.

Moving the statutory resolution opposing POTO, Congress member Kapil Sibal described it as a “draconian piece of legislation” that could be misused against the citizens of India.

The BJP squarely blamed the Congress for the defeat of POTO in the Rajya Sabha, saying that this would “send a wrong signal to the world”.

The Congress is responsible for the defeat of this important Bill and now the only way out of this is to convene a joint session of Parliament so that the country is able to tackle the menace of terrorism which it has been facing for over two decades, BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra said.

Describing the defeat of POTO as a “great victory,” Opposition leaders said they were determined to defeat it if the legislation was brought before a joint session of Parliament.Back

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