Special Powers Act, 1974

Special Powers Act, 1974 promulgated on 9 February 1974 (Act XlV of 1974) providing special measures for prevention of certain prejudicial activities and for conducting more speedy trial and effective punishment for certain grave offences. It was a follow-up of the repealed Security Act, 1952, Public Safety Ordinance, 1958 and Bangladesh Scheduled Offences (Special Tribunal) Order, 1972 (President's Order No. 50 of 1972).

Political exigencies were, however, instrumental in prompting amendments or deletion, or insertion of additional provisions, especially with regard to freedom of the press. The major insertions were related to counterfeiting currency notes and government stamps, smuggling, adulteration of food and drink, drugs and cosmetics, conspiracy to commit offences as well as related offences by companies. Under section 2, the Act defines a prejudicial act as any deed which is intended or likely to (i) prejudice the sovereignty or defence of Bangladesh; (ii) prejudice the maintenance of friendly relations of Bangladesh with foreign states; (iii) prejudice the security of Bangladesh or to endanger public safety or maintenance of public order; (iv) create or excite feelings of enemity or hatred between different communities, classes or sections of people; (v) interfere with or encourage or incite interference with the administration of law or maintenance of law and order; (vi) prejudice the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the community; (vii) cause fear or alarm to the public or any section of the public; and (viii) prejudice the economic or financial interests of the state.

The grave offences referred to in the Act were listed as:

(i) dealing in the black-market of rationed articles, licences, permits or ration documents;

(ii) hoarding of anything in excess of the quantity allowed by law;

(iii) sabotage meaning doing any act with intent to impair the efficiency or impede the working of, or to cause damage to (a) any building, vehicle, machinery, apparatus or other property used, or intended to be used, for the purposes of the government or of any local authority or nationalized commercial or industrial undertaking; (b) any railway, aerial ropeway, road, canal, bridge, culvert, causeway, port, dockyard, lighthouse, aerodrome, telegraph or telephone line or post, or television or wireless installation; (c) any rolling stock of any railway or any vessel or aircraft; (d) any building or other property used in connection with the production, distribution or supply of any essential commodity, any sewerage works, mine or factory; or (e) any jute, jute product, jute godown, jute mill or jute bailing press; (iv) counterfeiting currency notes or government stamps; (v) adulteration of or sale of adulterated food, drink, drugs or cosmetics; and' (vi) other offences, as mentioned in the schedule of the Act, under the Arms Act, 1878, Explosive Substances Act, 1908, and under sections 376, 385 and 387 of the Penal Code. By omitting sections 16, 17 and 18 by the amending Act XVlll of 1991, some vital freedom of the press were restored.

The law empowers the government to control subversive associations and prohibit formation of communal associations or unions. The Special Powers Act provides for preventive detention, constitution of advisory board to review grounds of preventive detention, trial by special tribunals, provision of sentences of death or life imprisonment for grave offences, such as sabotage, counterfeiting and smuggling. [Enamul Haq]