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Faced with widespread protest from opposition political parties and social activists over a proposed new law – Maharashtra Protection of Internal Security Act (MPISA) –, the state government has stated that the draft posted on the state government’s official website on August 21 is only a proposal which is open to “healthy debate” and fair criticism.
At a press meet on Wednesday, KP Bakshi, additional chief secretary (home), flanked by top police officers, said the proposed Bill will be discussed at the political level only after due consideration has been given to suggestions and objections from citizens.
“We will go through the points of criticism and suggestions and incorporate what we think needs to be incorporated. Then, a revised draft would be placed before the home ministry and after its approval, before the cabinet,” he added.
The bill has been sharply criticized for several of its “draconian clauses” which it is alleged will turn Maharashtra into a “police state” wherein civil rights of citizens, including the right to privacy and to protest will be severely curtailed. The Congress Party and the National Alliance for People’s Movements (NAPM) have demanded withdrawal of the bill in toto.
"This draft gives unbridled powers to the police and the intention behind such a law is to muzzle democratic dissent and not terror or crime," said Congress Party leader Sanjay Nirupam.
Ditto, said an NAPM activist, Ulka Mahajan. She said the law gives sweeping powers to police and curbs even democratic dissent. “We are not going to offer our criticism or objections to the draft. We will demand this draft be withdrawn,” Mahajan added.
The stated objective of the bill is to make “special provisions for protection of internal security in the state of Maharashtra, to deal with the challenges of terrorism, insurgency, communalism, caste violence, etc., and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”
The draft defines certain systems and assets as “critical assets” and “critical infrastructure”. It proposes the setting up of a high-powered committee under the minister of state for home which will undertake measures to protect such assets and infrastructure. Certain areas are proposed to be declared as Special Security Zones (SSZ) where movement of arms, explosives and inflow of unaccounted funds will be prohibited.
The proposed bill obliges all owners or managers of public establishments to “at all times, provide and maintain public safety measures, as may be specified by order of the state police chief from time to time”. The safety measures include installation of CCTV and footage of the same must be preserved for 30 days. Failure to comply with the stipulations will attract a fine up to Rs. 5 lakh.
All punishable offences under the proposed act will be cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable. They will be tried in special courts for to facilitate speedy trials.
Those found guilty of engaging in “subversive acts” are to be punished with “imprisonment for a term which may extend to life, or with fine, or with both”. Included among subversive acts is “causing damage to any building, vehicle, machinery, apparatus or other property used or intended to be used for the purpose of government or any local authority”.
While defending the proposed bill, Bakshi claimed that while there was a similar hue and cry in 1999 when the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) was proposed, today everyone is happy with the results it has produced.
Full text of the bill may be accessed here.