The National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) is set to be launched on March 1st, 2012. Drawn from the United States model of the same name, the agency is an ambitious call for states to centralize information related to terrorism. (Counter terrorism agencies in the US has also been heavily criticized for a host of civil rights and human rights violations.)
The NCTC-India draws its legal framework from the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), effectively hardening the law’s powers and mandate.
Despite strong opposition from civil rights groups to the UAPA, the Indian government has expanded the troubled and controversial law through the recent notification of the NCTC.
Some background on the UAPA, from the Binayak Sen Solidarity Forum
We, the undersigned, are gravely concerned about the use of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) by the government of India and state governments to silence voices of dissent and opposition. Recently, a large number of political activists, human rights defenders and journalists have been arrested and convicted on the basis of this draconian law. We view this act only as a means of state terror intended to endanger citizens who are brave enough to speak, write or act against the interests of the ruling party and big business. The case of Dr. Binayak Sen confirmed our worst fears- that nobody who exercises their free speech to expose the violent state is spared.
If Dr. Sen is one of the more famous victims of this anti-democratic law, hundreds languish in jails in the country for speaking out against the collusion between multinational companies, politicians and the police. UAPA is being used to repress struggles by poor peasants and adivasis for their land and resources , against striking workers, minorities, civil rights activists, journalists, lawyers and students for protesting against anti-people policies of the government. Swapan Dasgupta, the editor of a political magazine from West Bengal died in police custody after being booked under UAPA in 2009. Spokesperson of Peoples Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA), Chhtaradhar Mahato was arrested under UAPA in 2009 and still is in jail in West Bengal. It has been used against journalists like KK Shahina of Tehelka who dared to write about a legal system discriminating minorities and against Dalit activists like Sudhir Dhawale who worked in open and public platforms. The law gives unlimited freedom to the police to interpret what constitutes terrorism and unlawful activity to suit the interests of the rich and the powerful.
While it is still too early to see how the NCTC will operate in areas called the “Red Corridor”, there is ample reason for anyone concerned about the gross human rights violations in these parts to be worried about the development. The NCTC has been billed as an increase in technological efficiency in terms of communication between states and the national government. There is a clear push to see it as a move to reduce governmental bureaucracy by consolidating several federal agencies under one centralized entity. However, the NCTC does much more than that. It drastically expands the national authority to over-ride and arrest people, with even less due process.
“The officers of the NCTC shall have the power to arrest and the power to search under the UAPA,” said the order. NCTC will have powers to requisition ‘elite’ forces like NSG and marine commandos to carry out operations against terrorists. The final shape of the agency looks far stronger than what had initially been estimated, with the powers bestowed upon it through UAPA expanding its reach far beyond the Multiple Agency Centre (MAC) which was tasked with collecting, collating and sharing intelligence inputs.
The NCTC will draw its ‘functional’ power of search and seizures under the provisions of the UAPA that allows Central agencies such powers in terror-related case while keeping state police concerned into the loop.
The central anti-terror body will have power to seek any kind of information, including documents, reports, transcripts and cyber details from “any agency furnishing or obliged to furnish such information” under the conditions of confidentiality.
Not surprisingly, states like West Bengal and Orissa, have come out in strong opposition of the NCTC.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee said on Tuesday that the state government will oppose the move, as “it could not be allowed in a federal structure”. Mamata said Odisha was also opposing it. [...]
The state government’s main objection is about the fact that the central agency can make arrests in areas that are under the state jurisdiction. This could also be the state’s conscious decision to monitor the Maoist issue where it does not want the Centre to intervene.
It might seem like the NCTC could act as an oversight or regulatory body over state’s legal jurisdiction. A powerful nationally centralized oversight body that had powers to undo some of the more glaring abuses of power by states like Chhattisgarh would be a step in the positive direction. However, there is no reason to believe the NCTC would be taking this step. If anything, it is a clear step in increasing governmental authority, decreasing civil rights and further displacing transparency in the name of national security.