A Chinese official’s comment during diplomatic negotiations over listing Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a UN-designated terrorist had firmed up the government’s resolve to usher in amendments to the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), Home Ministry sources said on Friday.
In the past couple of years, when India was pushing hard for Azhar’s listing with China, a Chinese official pointed out that Azhar had not been banned by India. “The Chinese told us point blank that when you have yourself not banned Azhar, why are you pushing us to help you,” a Home Ministry official said even as he argued why adding “individuals” to the provision of the Act banning and declaring an organisation as “terrorist” was necessary.
The Lok Sabha passed the UAPA amendment Bill this week, further enhancing powers of the National Investigation Agency (NIA). A key amendment in the Bill, which gives powers to the government to designate individuals as terrorist, has led opposition parties to express concern that it could be misused.
Home Ministry sources argued that there were ample safeguards in the UAPA to prevent misuse of the provisions, and that they were brought in keeping the international norm in mind. “It’s not that people will be randomly branded as terrorists. There are laid down procedures and the government will have to satisfy review committees with evidence to brand anyone a terrorist. Also, it is meant for people like Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar. In fact, they are the first people we plan to proscribe once the amendments become part of the Act,” the official said.
The official pointed out that a provision to proscribe ‘organisations’ as ‘terrorist’ already exists in the UAPA and the amendment will just add ‘individuals’ to it. “The record of ban on organisations will tell you that there hasn’t been any misuse of the provision. So there is no reason why the same provision would be misused against individuals,” the official said.
According to the official, as many as 42 organisations have been declared ‘terrorist’ under the Act. Only one of these —Hyderabad-based Deendar Anjuman — has challenged the designation. The review committee rejected its application, and that decision has not been challenged in any court, the official said.
Under UAPA, once an organisation is notified as terrorist, it can make an application to the government for denotification, within a month. If the government rejects it, the organisation can go to the review committee, which will examine the evidence furnished by the government. If here too the organisation is disappointed, it can go to the Supreme Court.
“All countries dealing with the threat of terrorism have this provision. The US, the UK, European Union, and even Pakistan and Sri Lanka. If the UN is ready to designate an individual as a terrorist, what is the problem if we do it?” the official said.
Sources said the ministry is yet to come up with modalities of the action to follow on an individual when he or she is designated a terrorist. “As of now, the police would be able to take action. However, in terms of other action like freezing of assets, blocking of access to finances and travel ban, modalities are yet to be decided,” the official said.
He added that the provision was necessitated because many individuals may not be part of an organisation but may be indulging in or promoting terror activities. “Dawood Ibrahim is not part of any organisation,” he said.