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It's Not POTA. Yet

It was expected, but the outcome was close in Rajya Sabha -- acrimony to extend to a record third joint session of parliament.
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It's Not POTA. Yet
It's Not POTA. Yet

The outcome in the Rajya Sabha was expected but had become close with the fact that lots of opposition members were sick or out of town, but in the end the result was on predicted lines -- the bill to ratify Prevention of Terrorism (Second) Ordinance, (POTO), 2002, already approved by the Lok Sabha, was also put to vote and in a division, the motion was rejected by the Upper House.

As many as 113 members voted against the bill while 98 supported it.

During the vote three Congress, one DMK and two AIADMK members were not present.

Replying to an acrimonious debate, Home Minister L K Advani stoutly defended the POTO saying it was essential because of a sea change in the security scenario in the face of cross border terrorism in the country.

Instead of terrorists languishing in jails, the measure would allow proper prosecution and conviction of terrorists by courts, he said and asserted that Government had incorporated all possible safeguards to prevent its misuse unlike the National Security Act (NSA).

For preventive detentions, the provisions under POTO were more specific, he said observing that wireless intercepts have been made admissible as evidence to ensure conviction.

Going by the suggestions given by the Supreme Court on the defunct TADA, of the 26 people booked under POTO in Jammu and Kashmir, ten have been released on bail, he claimed, which proves that the proposed law was not as harsh as was being made out to be by the Opposition.

Joint Session Now

"The Congress is responsible for the defeat of this important bill and now the only way out of this is to convene a joint session of Parliament so that the country is able to tackle the menace of terrorism which the nation has been facing for over two decades," BJP spokesman V K Malhotra charged.

He said this defeat of POTO would "only send a wrong signal to the world that the country, which had been facing the menace of terrorism, has opponents within against a law for dealing with this problem".

Meanwhile, the home minister L K Advani maintained that the government could foresee the defeat of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill in Rajya Sabha but is determined to get it passed through a Joint Session of Parliament on Tuesday,

"The difference was so wide, the strength of the non-NDA members was considerable and there was a gap of about 50 .... but we tried to mobilise as much as we could and we lost by only 13 or 14 votes," Advani said after the Bill got defeated in the Upper House.

"The outcome was broadly on the expected lines. But we are determined to pursue," Advani said.

Only Twice Before

A joint session to get a Bill through has been used only twice: by Jawaharlal Nehru govt in 1961 and by the Morarji Desai govt in 1978.

Significantly, Nehru had a majority in both the Houses and still he called a joint session to accommodate ‘‘honest differences of opinion’’ on the Dowry Prohibition Bill. Nor did he bind his party to a whip. Rajya Sabha had passed a version of the Bill according to which ‘‘direct and indirect payments’’ were banned while the Lok Sabha said that including ‘‘indirect payments’’ was ‘‘oppressive.’’

The joint session had passed the Rajya Sabha version.

Morarji Desai govt., on the other hand, wanted to scrap a centralised Banking Service Commission set up by Indira Gandhi during Emergency on the lines of the UPSC. Congress-dominated Rajya Sabha had rejected the Bill but a joint session gave them the requisite numbers -- which is what A.B. Vajpayee's NDA hopes to get. Interestingly, A B Vajpayee is the only sitting MP to have participated in both the joint sessions.

In case of a joint session now, planned for March 26, of the total strength of around 782 in both Houses, the NDA is likely to have the support of nearly 425, as the Trinamool Congress is likely to abstain. The Opposition would be left with around 350.

Such joint sessions had taken place twice before. The first was on May 6 and 9, 1961 when the Dowry Prohibition Bill 1959 was passed and second to pass the Banking Commission (Repeal) Law on 16 May 1978.

The Bill, replacing the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, lapses on April 8, six weeks after commencement of the current session.


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