The Cabinet nod to expand the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act so as to give a broader dimension to the terrorist act is a shot in the arm for investigators who probe cases pertaining to economic security.
While giving the nod, it also sought an opinion from the state governments on how to make this act more powerful since the states have a very big role to play in this too. While some state governments had delayed the approval of the bill as they sought more consultation, many others are in favour of this proposal which will now be placed before the Parliament of India for a final clearance.
The most important aspect of this proposal is that the jail term for any person even associated with money laundering or counterfeiting would go up from the existing two years to five years under this act apart from the seven years that the Indian Penal Code already provides. More importantly any act of counterfeiting will directly fall under the definition of a terrorist act. It is also proposed to empower the courts dealing with such cases to attach property of those persons involved in such acts.
While terrorist organisations continue to fund themselves with the sale of counterfeit currency, the biggest advantage of this act would be that it would bring small timers and local gangsters too under the ambit of a terrorist. Whether or not there is an association with any terror group, a person indulging in such an act small or big would still be defined as a terrorist as his actions would be seen as a threat to the economic stability of the country.
The state governments which have been giving their feed back say that in most of the cases that they have found it is the local gangsters who are circulating fake currency. In most of the cases the source of the funds have not been tracked and very often the culprits get away with minor punishments.
Police sources say that this proposal which has been cleared by the cabinet will act as a deterrent as there would be the fear that any such activity would directly be classified as an act of terror. It is one thing to be called a criminal and a whole other thing to be named a terrorist, the police also point out.
The agencies have been having a tough time dealing with this menace. It was clear that they were unable to stem the flow of fake currency since it is present in large numbers. The manner in which the fake currency was being made and the authenticity was next to impossible to track. The only way that they were able to find out was that there was circulation of more notes than what was already printed by India. The RBI was only able to stem the flow by banning the series 2aq and 8ac. This meant that the entire series of notes in the 1000 denomination with the series numbers 2aq and 8ac. It was a desperate attempt on part of the Indian agencies to stem the flow since even the genuine notes in this series were ordered to be kept out of circulation since the major inflow into the Indian market were with these serial numbers.
However police officials say that it is not very difficult for terror groups to pump in notes with the new series and they will do it for sure. However at the root level there will be a fear to circulate these notes since if any one is caught doing so he is termed as a terrorist and local gangsters would not want that tag and hence their activities would come down a great deal.
The Cabinet nod will strengthen the existing laws a great deal. Under the Indian Penal Code, Section 476 states that- Whoever counterfeits upon, or in the substance of, any material, any device or mark used for the purpose of authenticating, intending that such device or mark shall be used for the purpose of giving the appearance of authenticity to any document then forged or thereafter to be forged on such material, or who, with such intent, has in his possession any material upon or in the substance of which any such device or mark has been counterfeited, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine. Moreover it is also a non cognisable/non bailable offence triable by the Magistrate of the first class.
Investigating agencies are also hopeful that while this act gives them more teeth while investigating, it would also help them get more convictions. In the cities of Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Lucknow, there are an average of 10 cases of counterfeiting registered every day. The conviction rate of all these cities put together is just about 7 per cent. While officials have managed to detect the crime they are finding it hard to obtain a conviction. More often than not the accused take the defence it landed in their possession and very often it becomes hard to prove the case otherwise.
The pitfalls- While the new act gives the police a blanket power to term a person with counterfeit currency as a terrorist, they would want to be careful while dealing with a genuine victim. These notes often come out of the banks and an ATM and more often than not people do not even realise. The sad part is that if a person does realise and report it to the bank the only option before him is destruction of that note. Police officials however say that they will be careful and can tell between a genuine victim and an accused. An accused is often found in possession of many notes. However if people find fake notes on them and come and report the matter to us, we will be sympathetic towards their cause. Moreover an accused would never report such a matter to the police. However it is mandatory that any person who is found in possession of a fake note having the series banned by the RBI must report the matter to the bank or to the police station. The police say that it would go a long way if people come forward and alert them when they find such a note. This way the bank from where they got the note could be alerted and they would be more careful. More often than not, it is found that people with fake notes never report the matter and try to pass it off at a crowded shop of a petrol bunk. The police feel that the banks too must do more and if a person is found in possession of one or two notes, he should be compensated as none would like to lose their hard earned money.