Uttar Pradesh’s Organised Crime Control Bill gives Yogi Adityanath government a tool for state terror and police excess
The Uttar Pradesh Control of Organised Crime Bill proposed by Yogi Adityanath government contains provisions which flagrantly contravene essential guarantees against the application of criminal law as laid down in the Constitution, and if passed could send the state closer to a reign of lawlessness and terror
On 28 March this year, Uttar Pradesh’s Yogi Adityanath government passed the Uttar Pradesh Control of Organised Crime (UPCOC) Bill by a voice vote amid vociferous protests and a walkout by the Opposition.This was the second time the contentious Bill was passed after it was referred to a select committee in December last year.
The Bill had faced waves of criticism and was defeated at the Legislative Council, where the ruling BJP is in a minority. If the Legislative Council rejects the Bill again or passes it with amendments not acceptable to the state Assembly or does not pass it within one month, then the Bill will be deemed to have been passed by both the Houses in the form in which it was passed by the Lower House for the second time.
The Bill, drafted on the lines of the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crimes Act (MCOCA), contains provisions which flagrantly contravene essential guarantees against the application of criminal law as laid down in the Constitution.
Illegal extension of period of judicial custody
The most stringent provision of the Bill is Section 28 (2) where the judicial custody of a person arrested under the Bill has been increased from 15, 60, and 90 days according to the nature of crime as provided in Section 167 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CRPC) to 60, 180 and 365 days, respectively. It means if a person is arrested under the Bill, he might remain imprisoned for one whole year before the trial begins. This period of 365 days is more than double of that provided under the MCOCA and India’s stringent anti-terror law — the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
A pertinent question arises: how would the Adityanath government justify equating organised criminal activities with acts of terror in court, especially since it will fall foul of the Fundamental Right to Equality guaranteed by Article 14 of the Constitution. It also has to meet the test of proportionality — one which it is surely bound to fail.
Longer police remand, fears of custodial torture
At present, the maximum duration of police remand under the CrPC is for 15 days. However, under Section 28 (3A) of the UPCOC Bill , the period has been increased to 60 days. It is known that on a remand the police usually unleash the beast of custodial torture, which in many cases results in a person’s death.
In India, a lot of complaints are made regarding torture in police custody and the number of custodial deaths reported is also very high. In fact, according to the latest NCRB statistics, Uttar Pradesh ranks third in instances of custodial torture. This is despite the Supreme Court having outlawed custodial torture.
Curtailing press freedom
Under Section 3 (B) and (E) of the law, the court may ban the publication of court proceedings in any case. Violation of this order will be punishable by one-month imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1,000. This provision has been inserted, even though the Bombay High Court has ruled that such blanket bans on covering court proceedings are illegal and unconstitutional.
The Adityanath government wants to portray an image of muscularity in tackling and eradicating crimes and has even gone on an alleged encounter spree to boost its credentials.
Till now, the Opposition has been able to prevent the government’s marauding steps towards taking Uttar Pradesh closer to a reign of lawlessness and terror. In such circumstances, a robust constitutional challenge to the UPCOC Bill might just do the trick.
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