Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Tough laws alone no solution

28 Aug 2007, 0053 hrs IST,Atul Thakur,TNN
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It is a widely held belief that India’s failure to check the menace of terrorism is because it is a 'soft' state, one that shies away from having tough anti-terror laws. How well does this match with the facts?

A quick look at statistics shows that while India has had two periods in which such laws have been in operation — 1985 to 1995 under the Terrorist & Disruptive Activities Act (Tada) and then 2001 to mid-2004 under the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance or Act (Poto and Pota) — there is little to show that they made any difference to the pattern of extremist violence in the country.

TOI looked at the data on the three big problem areas in India as far as terrorist activity is concerned — Jammu & Kashmir, the North-East and Naxalite violence — and found that each has had a totally different pattern over the years.

The data since 1988 for J&K, for instance, reveals that terrorist incidents and deaths as a result of them peaked once in 1996 and again in 2001. In fact, there was steady rise in terrorist activity in the state between 1998 and 2001.
Since then, there has been a continual decline in the number of casualties each year. The number of persons, including civilians, security forces and terrorists, killed during terrorist attacks in 2006 was 1,116, barely a fourth of the 4,507 people killed in 2001.

What is striking about this is the fact that the Congress-PDP government that took over in October 2002 declared that it would not use Pota in the state, though the Act was repealed only in 2004. Since then, it has regularly been castigated for being soft on terror. Whether the decline has something to do with the 'healing touch' the state government promised is a moot question, but the evidence clearly shows that not having Pota-type laws has not hindered the effort to contain terrorism.

How about violence in the northeast region? The data in this case shows that from 2000 onwards there has been a steady decline in the number of people killed though not in the number of incidents. Again, the connection with the presence or absence of Pota is far from clear, since this period includes two years under the anti-terror law and the rest without it. In fact, the decline had already begun before Poto came into effect in October 2001.
That leaves the third major category Naxalite violence. In this case, data is available only since 2002 and the pattern it reveals is apparently random.

There are some years in which the number of those killed and of incidents is lower than in the previous year, while there are others that show an increase in both parameters.

What all of this suggests is that it would be facile to see the solution to terrorism as simply an issue of having tough laws. There’s clearly more to it than that.

atul.thakur@timesgroup.com

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