The Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) was legislated in 1999. It was felt at that time that “organised crime has been for quite some years a very serious threat to our society” and that “it has no national boundaries and is fuelled by illegal wealth generated by contract killing, extortion, smuggling in contrabands, illegal trade in narcotics, kidnapping for ransom, collection of protection money and money laundering, etc.”
The state government, finding the existing legal framework rather inadequate, decided to enact a special law with stringent and deterrent provisions to deal with the menace of organised crime. In due course, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Delhi also enacted similar laws. Uttar Pradesh is also planning to have one: The UP Control of Organised Crime Act (UPCOCA). It needs to be understood that the pattern and scale of crime is undergoing a radical transformation.
There was a time when dacoity and murder were considered the most heinous crimes. It is no longer so. Today, organised crime overshadows them all. The MCOCA defined organised crime as “any continuing unlawful activity by an individual, singly or jointly, either as a member of an organised crime syndicate or on behalf of such syndicate, by use of violence or threat of violence or intimidation or coercion, or other unlawful means, with the objective of gaining pecuniary benefits, or gaining undue economic or other advantage for himself or any person or promoting insurgency”.
It includes offences such as money laundering, trafficking in weapons, smuggling of drugs, trafficking in women, activities of mafia, etc. Globalisation of the economy has enabled the crime syndicates to spread their wings across the borders. The law enforcement agencies require additional powers to deal with these new formats of crime, which are deadlier in their impact and more expansive in their reach. The impact of organised crime is, in fact, being felt all over the world.
The United Nations views organised crime to be a large-scale and complex criminal activity carried on by group of persons for the enrichment of those participating and at the expense of the community and its members. Such crimes, it was said, is frequently accomplished through ruthless disregard of any law and frequently in pursuance of political corruption. In the US, the Organized Crime Control Act was enacted in 1970. The need for a law on the lines of MCOCA in Uttar Pradesh was felt as far back as 2007. The UPA at the Centre, however, did not allow the Act on the ground that it was likely to be misused. The law and order situation in the state has deteriorated sharply during the last 10 years, thanks to the patronage extended to criminals by the political class.
Drastic steps need to be taken and the state must have a stringent law to deal with the organised criminals. Actually, as observed by the Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System, “The time has come when the country has to give deep thought for a system of Federal Law and Federal Investigating Agency with an all-India Charter”. Such an agency would have within its ambit “crimes that affect national security and activities aimed at destabilising the country, politically and economically.” The Committee clarified that the creation of Federal Agency would not preclude the State Enforcement Agencies from taking cognisance of such crimes.
Both would have concurrent jurisdiction except that when the Federal Agency takes up the case, the role of the State agency would automatically abate. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Veerappa Moily (2007) noted that the incidents of organised crime in India were on the increase and warned that if not checked, “these crimes have the potential of threatening national peace and security”. The Commission was of the view that there should be a central law on the subject with provisions for enhanced punishment, special courts, authorisation for interception of communication, special rules of evidence, circumstances under which confessions to police officers can be admissible in trials, protection of witnesses, forfeiture and attachment of property, presumption of offences, etc.
The Commission was, of course, conscious of the need to have “additional safeguards” in the central law so that the chances of misuse of its provisions were minimal. It is disappointing that Government of India has not yet passed a central law to deal with the growing threat of organised crime. It is high time that the matter is taken up by the NDA government.
Till then, the states should be allowed to have laws to deal with the menace of organised crime.