Red flags in the air, Maharashtra agrees to scan new security law

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Intrusive security to poorly defined zones: Opposition calls it draconian.

Under attack from activists and Opposition parties, the Maharashtra Government was today forced to admit to a discussion of the draft of the proposed Maharashtra Protection of Internal Security Act at an all-party meeting that it will call shortly.

From intrusive security to confused command and control, the absence of the Opposition in the apex committee to creation of Special Security Zones (SSZ), the red flags in the draft have prompted criticism.
The proposed law defines a Special Security Zone (SSZ) as an area continuously exposed to insurgency or activities of organised crime. This would be notified as an SSZ and will have an “appropriate police structure and a suitable command, control and response system.” Details of the set-up, the extent of its powers, and its relationship with existing security structures haven’t been defined. This could lead to confusion and multiplicity in command, experts say.

One provision of the draft law says that every public establishment including shops, hospitals and hotels are required to store video footage of public activities for a period of 30 days and hand over the footage when required by an officer-in-charge of the local police station. This has led to protests by many who feel this is an invasion of privacy and could be misused by police officials. For instance, footage of a couple entering or exiting a hotel can be misused.

However, senior police officials claim that only a DCP or an officer of a higher rank will be given the power to demand the footage.
Another provision in the draft says that any police officer may use such force “as may be necessary,” in order to stop the commission of any offence under the new law. Experts say this is too vague a definition and leaves open space for abuse.

One of the main political objections to the draft is the absence of representation of the Opposition in the State Internal Security Committee, the apex body in charge of monitoring the implementation of the law. This committee has the Home Minister, the ACS (Additional Chief Secretary), Home, and senior police officials. Opposition leaders say that at least the leader of the Opposition should be part of the committee otherwise it empowers the government and the police to take a decision on an entire range of security issues.

Under the new draft law, any gathering that expects a footfall of “over 100 people” has to get special permission from the police. Such a requirement is already enlisted in the Maharashtra (Bombay) Police Act and including this in the new law — and specifying the number — is seen by some as a move to regulate and curtail protests and agitations.

After discussions with all political parties, the proposed draft is to be discussed in the State cabinet, the government said today. After these discussions, public suggestions and objections would be invited, Additional Chief Secretary, K P Bakshi said.

The Shiv Sena slammed the draft calling it worse than the 1975 Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi. In an editorial in Saamna, it said it would lead to a “police raj.”

“Whether it is wedding ceremonies, naming ceremonies of new born, organising lunch or dinners, every little event will require a written permission from the police,” it said.

However, a Home Ministry official said: “The proposed draft is in the public domain for suggestions. The government had not taken any final view. The primary objective was to empower police to tackle with communal and caste-related violence and dealing effectively insurgencies and terrorism.”

Said Leader of Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil: “It is a draconian law which cannot be justified.” Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said, “The state is heading for police rule.”
Source - Indian express

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