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PERSPECTIVE

A Tribune Special
Fight against terrorism
The two new legislations have no teeth to
bite, says K.N. Bhat
T
wo new laws avowedly to enable the Centre to deal with terrorism more effectively are now on the statute book. The first one enabling creation of a National Investigating
Agency (NIA) is a proverbial red herring. It will surely create a few top jobs for the faithful senior police officers. But will it help more efficient investigation into acts of terrorism? That appears highly improbable, nay impossible.
       
Illustration: Kuldeep Dhiman


EARLIER STORIES

Warning from Assam
January 3, 2009
LeT’s admission
January 2, 2009
Hasina returns to power
January 1, 2009
Generational change
December 31, 2008
Sonrise
December 30, 2008
Voters’ victory
December 29, 2008
Transformation of polity
December 28, 2008
Abandoned by Pakistan
December 27, 2008
Triumph of democracy
December 26, 2008
Guillotine at work
December 25, 2008
Antics of Antulay
December 24, 2008
THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS


Need to tackle the menace of illegal weapons firmly
by Amrik Singh
U
nlicensed weapons have become a big threat to society. There are conflicting claims about their number — 4 to 40 million. What is the state doing about it? Clearly, the increasing crime rate and growing terrorism are real problems and have to be dealt with firmly.

OPED

Verdict in Kashmir
Democracy, good governance can tackle separatism
by O.P. Sabherwal
T
he “silent” majority has spoken. The spectacular events in Jammu and Kashmir during the seven-phase elections to the State Assembly have unleashed the soft but vastly underestimated people’s power as never before.

Ambika Soni On Record
Efforts on to woo more tourists: Soni
by Vibha Sharma
Global financial meltdown has slightly affected the Indian tourism industry. The last couple of months have been busy for Union Tourism Minister Ambika Soni. She took stock of the situation and devised ways to help the industry tackle the situation.                        Ambika Soni

Profile
Omar, an articulate politician
by Harihar Swarup
When Omar Abdullah acted in Apporva Lakhia’s film — Mission Istanbul — a film based on international terrorism, he did not know that one day he would have to head the government in what has come to be known as “the most dangerous place in the world”.

 


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A Tribune Special
Fight against terrorism
The two new legislations have no teeth to bite, says K.N. Bhat

Two new laws avowedly to enable the Centre to deal with terrorism more effectively are now on the statute book. The first one enabling creation of a National Investigating Agency (NIA) is a proverbial red herring. It will surely create a few top jobs for the faithful senior police officers. But will it help more efficient investigation into acts of terrorism? That appears highly improbable, nay impossible.

The NIA is not like the US’s FBI in terms of its structure, size or autonomy. It is just another Central government department dedicated only to “investigating and prosecuting” cases of terrorism. The CBI can be autonomous, at least to some extent if they so choose. The NIA, however, can make no such claim. Its officers shall have throughout India all powers of a Station House Officer in charge of a police station.

Apparently, the NIA’s manpower may not be very large. It will have no option but to depend upon the co-operation of the state police. The new Act ‘expects’ such co-operation. But the NIA has no power to command the state police to do or desist from doing anything in respect of the federal offences – it may not be constitutionally permissible to confer such a power on the NIA. Therefore, the procedure prescribed for investigation under Section 6 in short is as follows:

An SHO on receiving information of a scheduled offence, say actual or impending attack by terrorists, forwards a report to the state government; the state government shall forward it to the central government “as expeditiously as possible”; the Centre shall “within 15 days” determine whether it is a fit case to be investigated by the NIA and thereafter issue necessary directions.

During this slow motion procedure, the baby will be in the arms of the state police who are not novices in the art of swapping on instructions a girl with a boy or vice versa. In any case, suspicion will breed and grow in a country where states are ruled by different political parties and their perceptions of terrorism radically vary.

Yes, the NIA will not be asked to manage city traffic – to this extent they are not part timers. But is that all that is needed to fight terrorism? The agency entrusted with investigating into federal offences has no intelligence wing of its own. Nor has it any power of its own to interact with other agencies like the RAW or the IB.

It may be said that such details are not stipulated by an Act. But an agency that is entitled to get only such facilities that the Centre is pleased to grant and has to function as the government is pleased to order will be just another police station at the Home Minister’s command.

Consider the CBI. The functional autonomy in that organisation has been recognised as the single important factor that helped the CBI’s officers to perform better even though they are all on deputation from the state police. However, the CBI will not be asked hereafter to probe terrorist acts or other scheduled offences. It will be the exclusive job of the ill-conceived NIA.

The second law is a pack of amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967. It is an attenuated Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) or the truncated Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). It is bad enough if misused, but not effective enough to help an honest policeman to bring the culprits to book.

Confessions before the police even with the safeguards recommended by the Supreme Court are no longer admissible in evidence. Intercepted messages – coded or otherwise – could have been made relevant as evidence. Keeping the fast developing communication skills in view, more power could have been conferred on the high ranking police to eavesdrop into communications of all sorts to enable them to gather vital clues.

The aim of a tougher law is not to deter future terrorists – those who are ready to die do not stop to read the laws. The aim is to facilitate quick detection and securing conviction of the perpetrators. In an act of terrorism those who wield the guns or throw the bombs are often hirelings who generally get killed in the act – the real plotters and abettors remain behind the scene.

Finding out the collaborators and punishing them is of the essence in preventing future crimes. The conspiracies behind Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination and the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts would not have been solved as speedily as were done but for TADA of 1987.

Terrorists attacked Parliament premises on December 13, 2001. After passing through the trial court and the Delhi High Court, the case ended with the conviction of the culprits on August 4, 2005 by the Supreme Court, thanks to POTA. The provisions of both TADA and POTA making confessions admissible in evidence have been scrutinised by the Supreme Court and were certified as constitutionally valid subject to the suggested safeguards.

Why, then, the authorities have been reluctant to admit that such laws are needed to deal with partners in terror? Every now and then, we read about catching one or the other “mastermind” by the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) of one state or the other. The masterminds reportedly confessed to their involvement in several acts of terrorism committed in different parts of India, may be their patrons in India advise them to freely confess because such confessions are not admissible under the law. That is what Pakistan keeps repeating — Kasab’s confession is no evidence.

We have missed another opportunity of serving the cause of fight against terrorism. The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act (ULAPA) can just bark and has no teeth to bite. All the thoughts gathered so far on police reforms could have been put in to practice in establishing a truly autonomous and efficient agency that could have investigated into all aspects of the scourge with total professionalism that many of our policeman do possess – please give them a chance.

We have not seen the last of the outbreak of terrorism. War against a suspect neighbour is a remedy worse than the disease. Striking at the so-called terror centres is a myth according to experts because no one knows precisely where they are. The only way to guard against terrorism emanating from abroad is to keep our country sanitised.

Unquestionably, no foreigner can do much havoc in India without constant local help in good measure in terms of hospitality, logistic support, supply of money, manpower and material. Without doubt, there are many people living in this country that had collaborated in all the past attacks and they must be silently supporting another.

A well-designed NIA with an efficient legislative support would have helped in identifying the conspirators and thereby eliminating that class. The two laws recently made are utterly disappointing.

While referring to the special court as conceives, one may recall judge Patel exclusively entrusted with the trial of the 1993 Mumbai blasts cases. He had to quit midway because it was time for his elevation as a High Court judge.

The present Act permits special judges to continue with the pending trial even after they retire. If some retired judges acting as arbitrators or as commissions of inquiry are any indication, the danger of the special judges prolonging the trial has to be anticipated.

The writer is Senior Advocate, Supreme Court

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Need to tackle the menace of illegal weapons firmly
by Amrik Singh

Unlicensed weapons have become a big threat to society. There are conflicting claims about their number — 4 to 40 million. What is the state doing about it? Clearly, the increasing crime rate and growing terrorism are real problems and have to be dealt with firmly.

According to the earlier law, anyone found in possession of illegal weapons was regarded as an offender and was given capital punishment. This worked wonders and eventually the British had to leave Malaya and many other colonial countries. Can India do what the British did in Malaya at that time? The answer is No.

Even for a murder, capital punishment is sought to be modified nowadays. For possessing illegal weapons, one should get at least life imprisonment. Today we have a situation when there is talk of army ammunition etc. being stolen and so on. One cannot go into details but this is the broad situation and unless some kind of check over the possession of illegal weapons is immediately enforced, things will not improve. Some drastic steps have become imperative.

This writer did raise this issue at the last meeting of the National Integration Council. But there was no discussion. Outside the meeting, however, several people, including some ministers, discussed it with this writer. They referred to genuine difficulties. But how does one deal with it?

The basic issue is that we are a soft state and are not prepared to take strong action even when required. Consider strict laws for violation of traffic rules. But we are ‘soft’ and make all kinds of fake reasons for avoiding firm action.

The issue of Muslim and Hindu role has assumed certain controversial overtones. If the possession of illegal weapons is made severely punishable, it would be regardless of the faith of the person charged with doing things illegal. The important thing is to take action and not just talk about the problem.

Once somebody gets an illegal weapon, he or she would be guilty. Then it is to be found out whether he or she was found in possession of something criminal and illegal. There can be no further argument and no one else has any role to play. Most cases drag on because many offences had been committed and each one of them has to be proved. If the offender is charged with the possession of an illegal weapon and that is established, punishment should be immediate and conclusive. Other offences can take their own time.

Before the law is amended, a certain day will have to be given by the government to people to declare and surrender the legal weapons. After that, there will be no clemency. Once this law is amended, it will substantially control crimes of various kinds, including terrorists acts. This is not an answer to everything but, if genuinely implemented, it would go a long way towards improving the situation.

Talking in general terms won’t help. After the terrorist attack on Mumbai, there has been a qualitative change in the overall situation. How the government deals with the issue is difficult to anticipate but one thing is clear. Unless the intelligence and the police system are radically reorganised, things won’t improve.

Police reforms have been much talked about. Even the Supreme Court has issued directions. A couple of states have taken halting steps but things have been declining rather than improving. Why? The decline in police morale and functioning has been going on for over half a century. To assume that things will improve overnight would be unrealistic. It is only step by step that things will improve.

The first step should be to declare the possession of illegal weapons to be a serious offence. Punishment for it should be fairly high — nothing less than seven years of imprisonment to start with. Secondly, even if the judicial system is not improved, this single step will bring about a marked change in the situation.

If the judicial system can be improved, it will be gratifying. It will begin to perform better once the process is simplified. Of course, one has to prove that the offender was found guilty of possessing the illegal weapon.

For the rest, things will change according to their political rhythm and the electorate’s willingness to support such a system. The change in government in Bihar some three years ago led to a shift in political and administrative functioning. Today, things are much better there than they were earlier. Elsewhere, the same can be ensured provided the legal process is clarified and simplified.

The writer is a former Vice-Chancellor, Punjabi University, Patiala

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Verdict in Kashmir
Democracy, good governance can tackle separatism
by O.P. Sabherwal

The “silent” majority has spoken. The spectacular events in Jammu and Kashmir during the seven-phase elections to the State Assembly have unleashed the soft but vastly underestimated people’s power as never before.

It is democracy at play. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has rightly described the event in pithy words: “Democracy has won whichever party may have won or lost”. All that was needed is removal of the terrorists’ gun, poised at the heads of the people of Kashmir, and outpoured the voice of the popular majority, loud and clear.

In a way, there is commonality here with the Punjab experience, where the rampant terrorism of Khalistani separatism that held sway for a decade was erased by ushering in democracy and snatching the terrorists’ gun power: A combination of Beant Singh’s rule with K.P.S. Gill’s grappling of the terrorists’ gun.

But beyond this commonality, the Kashmir scenario has its distinct features and a jittery history, the lessons of which have to be re-learnt. One should recall, in particular, the botched events of 1987 and after. The most widely participated election of 1987 led to traumatic events of the nineties. Why? Because the elections were horribly rigged. Even a minority of dissidents — possibly 14 or 15 winning contestants — were suppressed.

When the ballot box is lost, the gun culture flourishes, and that is what happened in the nineties. Not only did the dissident Muslim minority parties turn to the gun but the rebellion gained credence because of excesses all around – giving the Islamic jihadis based in Pakistan an outlet.

It is a costly experience, but imbibing this experience has brought about the turn in the Kashmir scene. The free and fair elections of 2002 were a dress-rehearsal to the present 2008 elections. The Manmohan Singh government’s fervent effort to mend the Kashmir scene and resurrect democracy – with international observers watching the electoral scene in the 2002 elections – evoked a wide popular response despite the separatists’ call for boycott and the terrorists’ threat of the bullet.

A somewhat better performance by the PDP-Congress government, and further weakening of the terrorists in the intervening years, preceded the 2008 elections. That is what went into the making of the 2008 elections – a great success and a major advance in the re-induction of democracy in Kashmir.

That the electoral verdict came after a surge for azadi in the valley and breakdown of law and order in Jammu in the name of Amarnath Yatra, makes the 2008 elections in the state, registering the verdict of a large majority, all the more important.

It would, however, be foolhardy to think that the Kashmir groundswell is now well set. Much more needs to be done to ensure that there is no retrogression in Kashmir. The lessons of recent history point to the need for a many-sided effort to ensure that the achievements of the 2008 elections are not undone.

It is a two-track history in Kashmir. Despite the partition of India, Kashmir under Sheikh Abdullah’s leadership stayed with India and fought back the Pakistan-backed raiders in a memorable battle for democracy, secularism and progressive development. But the follow-up was lacking. Regional development combined with democracy was botched. And the autonomy written into the Kashmir constitution was subverted.

However, some lessons from the past have now been learnt, even though at great cost. The Indo-Pak interaction has also moved forward to an extent, and the Musharraf government’s halting steps against the Islamic jihadis on Pakistani soil, along with battering of the terrorists by the Indian establishment, has paved the way for democratic restoration. These are the results that have been on display, partially in the 2002 elections but full blast in 2008.

To sustain the victory of electoral democracy, good governance with popular involvement are essential, or else there could be a relapse. The National Conference-Congress combine has to ensure this. The early record of both parties has not been too promising, but hopefully, a young and dynamic Omar Abdullah, who is scheduled to be sworn in as the new Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, can bring about a turn.

Omar Abdullah, one of the brightest young leaders of the country, has to shoulder an onerous burden of giving the state good governance and accelerated pace of development. The people need the promised bijli, pani, makan and more. Enlarging Kashmir’s tourist industry, support for Kashmiri artisans, flourishing exports, and backing for the state’s composite culture – notably the Amarnath Yatra and Vaishno Devi pilgrimage – as joint Kashmiri-Jammu ventures. The Omar government has to repair the damage done jointly by the separatists and the Jammu Hindu chauvinists.

The NC-Congress administration has to create the right environment to bring the state’s youth into the national mainstream and attain consensus cutting across party lines. The PDP and the BJP should be brought into this consensus.

That is not all. The ‘Kashmir question’ has also to be tackled in respect of the framework of autonomy and at the Indo-Pakistan level. The lack of a properly defined relationship between the Kashmir valley and the Jammu and Ladakh regions adds another dimension to the problem that has to be tackled. Not without a forward movement all round will the gains in Kashmir be consolidated and the “Kashmir problem” solved once and for all.

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On Record
Efforts on to woo more tourists: Soni
by Vibha Sharma

Global financial meltdown has slightly affected the Indian tourism industry. The last couple of months have been busy for Union Tourism Minister Ambika Soni. She took stock of the situation and devised ways to help the industry tackle the situation.

In an interview to The Sunday Tribune, she highlights the initiatives her ministry has taken. Excerpts:

Q: How has the global financial meltdown affected the tourism industry?

A: Indian tourism had been growing in past four to five years between 12 and 14 per cent as against the world’s 6 and 14 per cent in 2007. In early 2008, it dropped to 10 per cent. We have been affected but our situation is not so bad. Foreign exchange earnings (FEE) from the tourism sector were Rs 45647 crore between January and November — an increase of 16.2 per cent over the corresponding period in 2007.

Q: Did the Mumbai terrorist attacks affect the industry?

A: Terror does take its toll but its effect is temporary. Our growth figures have come down because of the global situation and cancellations in our main resource market of the UK, US. But we have been developing alternative resource markets like South-East Asia along with the Buddhist trail and other destinations to attract people from Thailand, Japan, China, Korea, Singapore and other countries. We have also been aggressively marketing our products in West Asia.

The free and fair elections in Jammu and Kashmir have helped to promote our case abroad. Pictures of long queues of people, braving inclement weather to cast their votes, acted as subtle messages to convince the world that India is a safe place.

Q: How are you responding to the global meltdown?

A: Between January and June, we recorded 11.5 per cent increase in FTA and 22.2 per cent increase in fees in terms of dollars compared with last year. The impact of global situation started manifesting with dips in growth by November. We are trying to attract more tourists to heritage monuments.

Measures are on for strengthening the Market Development Assistance (MDA) besides organising familiarisation tours for overseas media and travel trade representatives. We are planning incentives for repeat visitors, subsidy to trade and state governments for participation in international travel fairs and exhibitions.

This year, 2009, is being promoted as Visit India Year where attractive incentives will be given. Cruise, wellness and adventure tourism are areas that have high potential for growth.

Q: What about improving infrastructure development?

A: It holds the key to sustained growth in the sector. Tourism is a great economic driver as it has a multiplier effect by generating direct and indirect employment. In India, 8.9 per cent employment is generated through tourism as against the world’s 8.1 per cent. It has a trickle-down effect. The Bed and Breakfast scheme has empowered housewives. It has helped tourists with budget accommodation. We got commercial taxes on house guests in Delhi removed.

States also realise the great potential of tourism. The Ministry has sanctioned 91 projects for Rs 503.56 crore for infrastructure augmentation including rural tourism projects in 2008-09. In all, 22 mega projects have been identified and 17 projects sanctioned at Amritsar, Bhubaneswar- Puri-Chilika, Tirupati (Nellore-Chittor), Dwarka, Haridwar-Rishikesh, Vidarbha Heritage Circuit, Hampi, Gangtok, Kadapa, Mahabalipuram and Ganga Heritage Cruise Circuit. The mega projects are a mix of culture, heritage, spiritual and ecotourism to give tourists a holistic perspective.

We are also taking initiatives with railways, civil aviation, road transport and highways, food processing and urban development and concerned states to achieve convergence and synergy with their programmes.

Growth of niche tourism products like rural, eco, adventure and camp tourism has seen the emergence of new tent accommodation. There will be a shortage of 1,50,000 hotel rooms by 2010 in the country and around 30,000 hotel rooms would be required in the NCR for the Commonwealth Games 2010. The Finance Ministry has announced a 5-year tax holiday to hotels of 2, 3 and 4 star category and convention centres will come up (April 2007 to March 31, 2010) in Faridabad, Gurgaon, Noida and Ghaziabad.

Q: What about responsible, sustainable tourism?

A: India won the first prize in responsible tourism. We have adopted sustainable tourism route in Rural Tourism Project, by strengthening skilled rural artisan communities and involving women in the project. Mega shopping festivals are being organised where artisans and artists would exhibit and sell their handicraft products and present cultural performances.

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Profile
Omar, an articulate politician
by Harihar Swarup

When Omar Abdullah acted in Apporva Lakhia’s film — Mission Istanbul — a film based on international terrorism, he did not know that one day he would have to head the government in what has come to be known as “the most dangerous place in the world”.

Militants may be down in the aftermath of Jammu and Kashmir elections but they are not but out. Kashmir continues to be a strife-torn state and stamping out terrorism remains high on Omar’s agenda. Being on the militants’ hit-list, he was attacked twice, but escaped.

Ten years are a long period in one’s life but too short in politics to learn its cruel lessons. Omar learnt them quite early; he is barely 38, and has become the youngest-ever Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Shedding the tag of an “outsider” to become a mature politician in a decade is indeed a spectacular achievement.

A business management expert, Omar demonstrated exceptional adaptability, political acumen and articulation to emerge from the shadows of his towering father Farooq Abdullah and carved a niche for himself.

Educated in Mumbai and Scotland, he not only learnt Kashmiri to make himself acceptable to the people but led the party through testing time when it was in the Opposition and reached out to the people. As he climbed the political ladder from a National Conference MP to head the party, Omar showed level-headedness and articulation far beyond his age and that belied his boyish look.

Scion of one of the most distinguished families of Kashmir, Omar is Sheikh Abdullah’s grandson. He represents modern India, is energetic and articulate and has made an impact on Indian politics.

His maturity came to the fore in the Lok Sabha in July last year when he spoke extempore in favour of the nuclear deal, leaving the entire House spell-bound.

Omar began his political career in 1998, having been elected to the Lok Sabha. In 1999, he was re-elected to the 13th Lok Sabha and inducted in the Union Council of Ministers as Minster of State for External Affairs. He thus became the youngest Minister at the Centre. He was re-elected to the Lok Sabha for the third time in a row from Srinagar.

The year 2006 was an important year in Omar’s political career when he was elected President of the National Conference for the second time. Many eyebrows were raised when he met former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf the same year in Islamabad.

Omar’s growing importance put him on terrorists’ hit-list; an attempt was made on his life in 2007 but he escaped when suspected terrorists fired two rifle grenades, targeting him. The militants made a second attempt on his life when he was on his way to a girl’s school in Srinagar. They were unable to target him, but attacked the school and the students.

An angry Omar was enraged and his impromptu comment was: “I can’t believe that any religion or any cause, no matter howsoever sacred, justifies attack on innocent school girls”.

Omar would like to see the Kashmiri Pandits, who were forced to leave the valley, return to their homes. He is a close friend of Gandhi scion, Rahul Gandhi but refutes the suggestion his relations with Rahul helped in forging the alliance with the Congress and the NC-Congress coalition. “It is not my nature to use personal relationship for political gains”, he says.

Omar is married to a Hindu girl — Payal — and has two sons. Payal made public appearance for the first time in one of the election meetings. Her comment on her first public exposure was: Bahut pyar mila, bahut accha laga itne sare lok dekh kar (I got lot of affection, I felt very happy to see so many people).

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