Bengal passes bill denying political prisoner status to terror-linked

Kolkata, Aug 27 : Amid opposition protests, the West Bengal assembly Tuesday amended the Correctional Services Act to bar those with links to terror outfits from getting political prisoner status.

The amendment also disallows those involved in regional, communal, linguistic and caste-based agitations from applying for the status.

State Correctional Administration Minister Haider Aziz Safwi said the bill was being introduced as the government is "unable to distinguish between political and non-political prisoners".

"Those who are involved in terrorist activities, killing a number of people, claim themselves to be political prisoners, as if they are furthering a political objective," said Safwi during the discussion for introducing the bill.

The opposition, the Communist Party of India-Marxist-led Left Front dubbed the amendment as a "black law passed to suit the government's own interests".

Leader of the Opposition, Surjya Kanta Mishra, said the bill was reflective of the ruling Trinamool Congress' "double standards".

"On the one hand, those responsible for killing people have joined the Trinamool and contested elections, on the other the government is now denying people the status of political prisoners. This is nothing but double standard of the ruling party," he said.

State Parliamentary Affairs Minister Partha Chatterjee said under the new regime, 188 life convicts and 56 political prisoners have been released in the state.

The Calcutta High Court August last year had provided political prisoner status to seven top Maoist leaders, including Communist Party of India-Maoist spokesperson Gour Chakraborty and Venkateshwar Reddy, also known as Telugu Dipak.

Following the court order, the union home ministry had written to the Mamata Banerjee government expressing concern over the issue, saying the move "can have significant security implications at the national level".

At present, there are 62 political detainees in the state's correctional homes.

As a political prisoner, undertrials and convicts are entitled to get a chair, table, mattress, blankets, mosquito nets along with writing material and a newspaper.

Civil rights group too have voiced their opposition to the amendment.

--IANS (Posted on 27-08-2013)

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