Minutes after opposing the Bill and cautioning the government that it was doing something “hopelessly unconstitutional” that would by struck down by courts, the Congress on Friday broke ranks with many other opposition parties in Rajya Sabha and supported The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019.
The Bill was passed with 147 votes in favour and 42 against.
In Lok Sabha, the Congress had on July 24 staged a walkout before the Bill was put to vote after its demand that it referred to a standing committee was not accepted.
On Friday, the party first voted in favour of motions moved by CPI(M)’s Elamaram Kareem and K K Ragesh and MDMK’s Vaiko, demanding that the Bill be sent to a select committee. Minutes later, the Congress voted in favour of the Bill.
The Opposition motion was defeated 104 votes against and 84 in favour, which meant the Bill would have sailed through even if the Congress had opposed it.
The amendment Bill will allow the Centre and states to designate individuals as terrorists and seize their properties.
The Congress voted in favour after CPI(M)’s Kareem and Trinamool Congress’s Sukendu Shekhar Roy demanded voting. Without the Congress, the rest Opposition managed only 42 votes. The BSP also supported the Bill.
Several amendments moved by Opposition members were also rejected by voice vote.
Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram told the media later, “We are not opposing the Bill. UAPA Act was brought by the Congress government. Every amending Bill was done by the Congress to strengthen the Act, so we are not opposing provisions to strengthen the Act. We are only opposing clause 5 and 6, which allows them (government) to name an individual.”
He said, “They can name an individual at any time just because some Joint Secretary (in government) believes that an individual is involved in terrorism… he (the bureaucrat) will name him. We are opposing that.”
Replying to concerns raised by Opposition members on naming individuals as terrorists, Home Minister Amit Shah said there is a need to designate an individual as terrorist since even after banning a terror outfit, an individual terrorist can easily float another group and continue “spreading terror.” He said many countries such as the US, Pakistan, China and Israel, besides European Union and the United Nations, designate individuals as terrorists.
As for misuse of the law, he said the Congress should be the last to complain about misuse and recalled clampdown on the media and arrest of Opposition leaders during Emergency. Shah said the law will help agencies remain “four steps ahead” of terrorists.
Replying to Congress member Digvijaya Singh’s argument that the National Investigation Agency could not secure conviction of the accused in the Samjhauta Express, Mecca Masjid and Ajmer blast cases and it did not bother to appeal, Shah said: “They were not found guilty because in these three cases there was an attempt to link a particular religion to terrorism on the basis of political vendetta…. In Samjhauta Express (case), some people were arrested earlier; then it was felt that elections are coming…(and it was felt by the then ruling party) that accusations have to be levelled against a particular religion and terrorism has to painted with a colour.”
So those arrested were let off and a false case was made out and some people were arrested, Shah maintained.
“The NIA could not furnish any proof,” Shah said, adding that the chargesheet in the Samjhauta Express case was filed in 2012 and 2013, when the Congress was in power.
On concerns about misuse, Shah said no person’s human rights will be violated, as a four-stage scrutiny with provision for appeals has been prescribed when individuals are declared terrorists.
Participating in the debate earlier, Chidambaram had said, “I oppose this Bill because it takes power to the government to name an individual as a terrorist. I oppose it on that ground.”
The Congress leader said, “We are opposing the mischievous amendment which has empowered the Central government to name an individual…. If the Central government believes that an individual is involved in terrorism, the individual will be named – there is no FIR, there is no chargesheet, there are no charges framed. There is no trial in a court. There is no conviction. If the Central government believes that an individual is involved in terrorism, he can be named.”
Chidambaram said that naming a terrorist outfit is different from naming an individual. “Let me caution you, this (Bill) will be struck down. Instead of listening to us here, and making the necessary corrections, you are forcing us to go about a kilometre away to another building (referring to the Supreme Court) and present to another set of eminent gentlemen to strike it down. How does it raise the esteem of Parliament? We are doing something which is hopelessly unconstitutional. You know and I know that it is unconstitutional,” he said.
“On the liberty of an individual…every judge in this country, the institutional conscience will prevail. This (amendment Bill) will be struck down on the ground that it violates an individual’s liberty,” he said.