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Monday, 19 November, 2001, 17:37 GMT
Delhi to debate anti-terror law
A new session of India's parliament has got under way with a controversial new anti-terror law expected to dominate proceedings.
The opening day of the five-week session was adjourned after members paid tributes to a senior Congress party leader, Madhav Rao Scindia, who died recently.
But the government's plan to introduce the Prevention Of Terrorism Ordinance (Poto) is already threatening to lead to a heated confrontation with the opposition which it says contains sweeping new powers that will undermine basic freedoms.
India's BJP-led government proposed the new law after the events of 11 September.
But critics say that if the new law is passed, it will be easier for the authorities to arrest minority groups and members of the press.
It is likely that the bill will be blocked by the upper house where the opposition Congress has a majority.
And Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee convened a meeting of the governing National Democratic Alliance to discuss the bill amid signs of unease from within the ruling coalition.
The government maintains that the country's security will be further threatened if the law is not passed and denies it will jeopardise the freedom of the press, or impinge on the rights of minorities.
Similar laws have been implemented in some Indian states, the government says, where they have proved a success.
The new law is intended to replace the widely criticised Terrorism And Disruptive Activities Act (Tada), which most political parties recognise was widely misused.
The government has accused the Congress party of double standards, because when it introduced Tada similar concerns were raised about the threat it posed to human rights.
Observers fear crucial legislation could be hampered because of the expected showdown between the government and the opposition.
"A lot of bills which are pending... will be lost in the enormous noise over the terrorism ordinance," political analyst Inder Malhotra told the Reuters news agency.
The opposition has also said it will raise the issue of the reinduction of George Fernandes as defence minister.
Mr Fernandes resigned in March over after a corruption scandal but was reinstated last month despite the fact that an official inquiry had not been completed.
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