The PCOCA Prognosis
Security officials feel only a stringent law can bring down crime in the state
Punjab’s top security officers are pressing the newly elected Amarinder Singh government to legislate fresh legal provisions to ensure a higher rate of conviction in organised crime cases. What they want is PCOCA, a Punjab-specific law that mimics the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), legislated amid considerable controversy in 1999 to tackle the Mumbai mafia and which was successively extended to Delhi and some other states.
Notably, legislation to this effect tabled by former deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal was turned down by the then council of ministers in July 2016 and sent back to the state advocate general for revision.
The original PCOCA draft talks of holding suspects without bail for six months (180 days) and seeks to render ‘confessions’ made before police officers above the rank of SP (superintendent of police) admissible in a trial court. All it would require is for a DIG (deputy inspector general) or an officer of a higher rank to put down in writing why IPC (Indian Penal Code) provisions were
POLICE POINT TO THE 57 ORGANISED GANGS, AND THEIR CAPACITY TO TERRORISE WITNESSES
inadequate in a particular case. In its present form, the draft act also empowers a court to permit in-camera trial and have a witness protection programme. It also wants special courts to ensure speedy trials.
But while the PCOCA proposal revives memories of controversial past instances of invoking MCOCA, including in the match-fixing allegations against cricketer S. Sreesanth, Punjab director general of police (DGP) Suresh Arora insists there is a strong case in favour of the legislation. Citing statistics, the DGP points to the abysmally low rate of conviction in cases pertaining to gangsters and crime syndicates— just 10 convictions versus 95 acquittals during the tenure of the last SAD-BJP regime.
Police officers also point to the impossible task of securing witnesses in recent cases, including in the terror bombing at Maur during the assembly poll campaign, the killing of Sacha Sauda adherents, the assassination of Punjab RSS vice-president Brig. V.P. Gagneja and the gunning down of the Namdhari matriarch Mata Chand Kaur in 2016.
Notably, even the CBI, which was handed over the investigation of the Gagneja and Chand Kaur killings, has not made much headway in the cases. Police officers point to the existence of 57 organised gangs with close to 500 members, underscoring their capacity to terrorise witnesses. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, though, is yet to take a final call—it’s hardly surprising, given the scope for abuse.
CM Amarinder Singh at a meeting with senior police officials in Chandigarh