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Rajya Sabha Passes UAPA Bill That Gives Govt Power to Declare Individuals as Terrorists

Seeking to allay Opposition's fears, Home Minister Amit Shah said a four-level scrutiny has been provided in the amendment and no human rights will be violated.


Updated:August 2, 2019, 5:11 PM IST
Rajya Sabha Passes UAPA Bill That Gives Govt Power to Declare Individuals as Terrorists
File photo of Home Minister Amit Shah

New Delhi: The Parliament on Friday approved an amendment to the anti-terror law to give powers to the central government to designate an individual as terrorist and seize his/her properties even as the Opposition warned that the law may be misused.

While the Lok Sabha had passed the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019, that seeks to amend the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, on July 24, the Rajya Sabha approved it by voice vote on Friday after rejecting an opposition-sponsored motion to send it to a select committee.

The Rajya Sabha rejected the motion to send the amendment to the select committee, with 104 votes against it as compared to 85 in favour. The House passed the amendment with 147 votes in favour and 42 against it.

Replying to a debate on the amendment, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said a four-level scrutiny has been provided in the amendment and no human rights will be violated. He said declaring individuals as terrorists is required as they float different organisations once an institution is banned. Individuals can be declared terrorists if they commit or participate in acts of terrorism, prepare or promote terror, he said. The amendment will expedite prosecution in terror cases, he said.

Terrorism has no religion, terrorists are against humanity, said Shah, seeking support of all parties to support stringent laws against terrorism.

Responding to opposition concerns of the law being misused, Shah said no one's human rights will be violated as a four-stage scrutiny with provision for appeal has been prescribed when individuals are declared terrorists.

Elaborating on the track record of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), Shah said of the 278 terror cases registered by the central agency, chargesheets have been filed in 204 cases. Of the 54 cases where judgements have been pronounced, convictions have been made in 48. The NIA's track record for conviction in terror cases is outstanding, he said.

The Opposition, however, said the new law was "draconian" and could be misused against anyone opposed to the ruling establishment.

CPM's Elamaram Kareem said the government was imposing "state terrorism" and dissenting individuals can be declared terrorist. "This will lead to large-scale harassment and injustice," he said.

The amendment would give NIA "open licence to go to any state and do anything at their will and pleasure" without informing the state government, he said, accusing the BJP-run government of taking a "soft approach" towards certain extremist organisations such as Sanathan Sansthan.

"Why are you not listing it as terrorist organisation," he said, adding a BJP minister had escorted Masood Azhar out of the country some years back.

Citing the previous POTA and TADA laws, he said thousands of Muslims were arrested.

"We are not afraid of your majority. We are not afraid of your money power and muscle power," he said, adding he would continue to oppose the law even if he was the lone member of Left parties.

Manoj Kumar Jha (RJD) said to frame someone as a terrorist is very easy.

Calling its provisions draconian, he said the Bill essentially panders to an ideology that conflates nation with the government. "If I criticise the government I am called anti-national," he said.

He cited jailing of Ram Manohar Lohia in 1947 by then Home Minister Sardar Vallabhai Patel and said he was not released despite Jawaharlal Nehru pleading for his release.

Jha said persons arrested as terrorists are being acquitted after 15-16 years. "With folded hands I plead with you... you have most powers, the state is all over. Why do you need additional powers," he said.

DMK's P Wilson demanded that the bill be referred to a select committee of the Rajya Sabha or the standing committee for greater scrutiny. He said the intention to curb terrorism is welcome and terrorism should be curbed with an iron hand but the amendment will be subject to abuse and misuse.

When an organisation is declared a terrorist organisation, it is adjudicated by a tribunal headed by a retired high court judge after inquiry. "For persons who are branded terrorist, there is no such safeguard," he said. "Simple belief of a central official is enough to declare an individual as terrorist," he said.

"The act doesn't state who is the officer in the central government, who will brand the person as a terrorist. The officer is not a judicial authority. The designation can happen arbitrarily," he added.

Nominated member Swapan Dasgupta said reforms should be made so that security forces are "one step ahead of terrorists" but the trust placed in the legislation is not misused.

People Democratic Party MP Mohammad Fayaz said such laws are most misused in Jammu and Kashmir and cited acquittal of five youth after 24 years. He narrated the ordeal their families went through and demanded that the bill be referred to a standing committee.

In Kashmir, if a militant at gun point seeks shelter in a house and demands food, this bill will enable branding of even those innocent people as terrorists, he said. Fayaz also asked Amit Shah why 25,000 troops were being sent to the Valley.

While extending support of YSRCP, V Vijayasai Reddy said his party will support every move to strengthen hands of the government to fight terrorism.

On criticism that law would be misused by the government, he said it is the principal opposition party which brought laws like MISA and TADA and "grossly misused" them. He alleged the principal opposition party had developed expertise in managing investigative agencies and put rivals in jail.

K Ravindra Kumar (TDP) said the amended law should not be misused, while Narendra Jadhav (nominated) opined that stricter laws are required to fight terrorism to protect citizens.

Another nominated member and noted lawyer KTS Tulsi, while opposing amendments, opined it may be struck down by courts and declared unconstitutional. Senior BSP leader Satish Chandra Misra said his party would strengthen hands of government to deal with terrorism.

He also asked the government to ensure the law is not misused. "We don't find anything faulty" in the amendments,” he said. Binoy Viswam (CPI) opposed the amendments, saying the NIA has been made almighty.

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