Act to make Maha a ‘police state’ draws ire
The draft of a new internal security law which the ruling dispensation claims will brace the state against insurgency and violence of any kind has rattled activists and opposition parties in the state, who claim that it will tighten the noose on the people’s right to protest, while restricting their movement.

The BJP-ruled government released the draft Maharashtra Protection of Internal Security Act (MPISA) on its website on Saturday, giving three weeks to the people to give suggestions and raise objections to it.

The proposed Act purportedly aims to neutralise threat from terrorism, insurgency, and communal and caste violence by ceding unprecedented power to the police, activists say, even as opposition parties cry foul over the “draconian” and “undemocratic” law.

The draft proposes to carve special security zones, or SSZs, where movement of arms, explosives and inflow of unaccounted funds will be prohibited. The ambit of these SSZs will cover dams, defence establishments, government facilities and buildings, nuclear reactors and transportation systems, all of which have been identified as ‘critical infrastructure sectors’.

If cleared, it will be the first such law at state-level, which that intends to reinforce internal security by giving more power to the police department. Under the Act, any device or substance that can lead to explosions or threaten public safety and order can be proscribed altogether from the special security zone, or regulated.

Rights bodies fear that this clause gives a licence to the cops to basically ban anything they want more or less anywhere.

The law also makes it mandatory for all private institutes to carry out CCTV surveillance and fortify their premises with police presence. The footage from the security cameras should be stored for up to 30 days, the draft lays down.

It is feared that this will allow for replicating the ruthless checks and dilatory frisking people are subject to at airports and malls everywhere: from government offices to private institutions, malls, industries, railway stations, bus depots, dams and water pipelines.

What has irked the opposition and activists the most is the requirement of prior police permission for any assembly of more than 100 persons in SSZs. Worse, violators will face up to three years in jail. Ulka Mahajan, convener of the National Movement for People’s Alliance (NAPAM), questioned the need to enact a new law when the state has a whole arsenal of internal security laws at its disposal. “We suspect this is nothing but an attempt to put curbs on public protests and movements against unjust projects thrust upon them in the name of infrastructure and security,” she said.

She pointed out the irony that the law is being brought in by a party, the ruling BJP, which claimed to be at the vanguard of protests against the Emergency in the 1970s.

The Opposition panned the Act as undemocratic and oppressive. “The powers proposed for the police to arrest anyone on mere suspicion, and the provisions of curbing people’s agitation go patently against the democratic ethos of this country,” Congress legislator and party spokesman Sanjay Dutt said. “They plan to crush dissent, which is growing every day due to the inept and corrupt functioning of this government.”

To help enforce the Act, a new internal security committee chaired by the home minister by virtue of his office will be set up. Its other members will include the minister of state (home), the chief secretary, the director general of police, and the state intelligence department’s chief.