The Indian Parliament met in a joint session on March 26, 2002, only the third time in the history of independent India, to pass the controversial Pota (Prevention Of Terrorism Ordinance) aimed at tackling the growing menace of terrorism in the country.
The move for convening a joint session of both houses of parliament was meant to propel the ordinance into the statue books since the Lok Sabha passed Pota, but rejected by Rajya Sabha. Confident of its majority in the Parliament (Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha), the government requested the President Mr. K. R. Narayanan, to exercise his powers conferred under clause (1) of article 108 of the constitution to summon a joint sitting of the both houses of the parliament.
The first time, both houses of parliament met in a joint session, was in 1961 over disagreement between the two houses on specific amendments to the dowry prohibition bill. There was another joint session in 1978 following Rajya Sabha’s rejection of the Banking Service Commission (Repeal Bill) that was passed by the Lok Sabha.
After a marathon debate that lasted for nine and a half hours, the controversial antiterrorism bill secured parliamentary approval in the historic joint sitting; 425 in favor of the legislation, 296 against and 60 abstentions. In all, the whole debate ended on an acrimonious note almost towards the fag end when the Prime Minister intervened to reply to some of the remarks of the leader of the opposition.
The Prime Minister stood and rebutted every allegation made by the leader of the opposition. The Home Minister Mr. L. K. Advani rounded up the debate by referring to the cases of the few hardcore terrorists booked under Pota who tried disintegration of the country.
The home minister who kicked off the debate on behalf of the government saying that after the September 11, terrorist attacks on the Untied States, and in view of the security council resolution no. 1373 of September 28,2001, India had an international obligation to enact an anti terrorist law. He sought to assure the members and the nation at large that the government was motivated by a sincere desire to deal effectively with the proxy war waged by Pakistan.
The leader of the opposition, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, accused the government of promoting a divisive agenda, using Pota. Both Mr. Smooth Chatterjee and Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav feared that the bill would fan the fires of communalism in the country.
On April 1, 2002 the Union Government banned two terrorist organisations operating in Jammu & Kashmir—AI-Badar and the Jamiat- UI-Mujahideen and declared three terrorists Moulana Masood Azhar, Ghazi E”ba and Tariq Ahmed as “Proclaimed offenders” under the newly enacted Pota.
Meanwhile, some congress ruled states like Assam and Rajasthan have announced that they would not put Pota to use in their states. Likewise, the communist party of India (Marxist) has announced that both in West Bengal and Tripura where the party is in power, Pota would not be implemented.