The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019, which, among others, seeks to give the Centre the power to designate not only organisations but also individuals as terrorists, if found committing, preparing for, promoting, or involved in an act of terror.
Replying to concerns raised by Opposition members, Home Minister Amit Shah said it is “priority of the government to root out terrorism”, and that even after banning a terror organisation, an individual terrorist can easily float another group.
Shah said, “There’s need for a provision to declare an individual as a terrorist. The UN has a procedure for it, the US has it, Pakistan has it, China has it, Israel has it, the European Union has it. Everyone has done it.”
He said Yasin Bhatkal of the Indian Mujahideen would have been arrested way earlier had he been designated as a terrorist.
In response to an issue raised by NCP’s Supriya Sule, Shah said the government has no sympathy for those who misguide the poor through Left-wing extremism in the garb of doing social work. “Terrorism is not only carried out with guns but (also) through propaganda. Those involved in urban Maoism will not be spared,” he said.
Following Congress floor leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s demand that the Bill be sent to a Standing Committee of Parliament for further scrutiny, the party staged a walkout.
Bill for more power to NIA
The UAPA amendment Bill is meant to further enhance power of the NIA, which was recently bolstered through the NIA Act (amendment) Bill passed by Parliament. The Bill proposes to give NIA powers to seize assets belonging to terrorists across the country without seeking consent or informing the state concerned. It allows even an NIA inspector to become the investigating officer of a terror case —earlier only Deputy SP-rank officers could do so. It adds International Convention for Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism to the schedule of UAPA.
The Bill was put to vote and was passed with only eight members opposing it and 288 voting in favour. Amendments brought in by a few opposition members were all defeated. When AIMIM member Asaduddin Owaisi, who moved a few amendments to the Bill, sought division of votes, Speaker Om Birla cited rule 367 of General Rules of Procedure and said that if the Speaker feels that the division is “unnecessarily claimed”, he may ask members to stand to convey their ayes or noes.
In a first in a very long time, members were asked to stand in response to Owaisi’s proposed amendments, each of which was defeated.
Most Opposition leaders who opposed the Bill expressed reservations about the provision dealing with branding of individuals as terrorists and giving the NIA sweeping powers to seize terrorist properties without the state government’s consent. They said this violates civil liberties and federal structure of the Constitution.
Owaisi said the Bill violates Article 15 and 21 of Constitution. He raised the issue of many Muslims being jailed for years under UAPA only to be acquitted later. “I hope this government will have zero tolerance against miscarriage of justice because we have not got justice from either the BJP in power or the Congress in power. All such draconian laws have only been used against Muslims and Dalits… I condemn both parties,” Owaisi said.
Raising the issue of misuse of UAPA, the Hyderabad MP said, “I blame the Congress party for this. They are the main culprits for bringing this law…. Who are the victims?”
TMC’s Mahua Moitra opposed the Bill on the ground that it violates federal structure and had the “dangerous” provision of declaring individuals as terrorists.
She also said that anyone opposing the government is branded an “anti-national”. “Opposition leaders, rights activists, minorities… anyone who does not agree with the homogeneous idea of India that this government is trying to thrust upon us, are at risk…. Each time we oppose a Bill, bring in a cut motion or move an amendment we run the risk of being labelled anti-national.”
The Treasury benches vehemently opposed this allegation, with Parliamentary Affairs Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal asking Moitra to take her words back.