The controversial amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) was passed in the upper house of Parliament through a division of votes on Friday (August 2). While 147 voted in favour of the bill, 42 voted against it. The Bill to become a law will now require the approval of the President.
This is the third controversial bill to be passed in Parliament this year after The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 and the RTI (Amendment) Bill.
Earlier, after Union Home Minister Amit Shah tabled the bill, opposition parties slammed the bill as it would empower the central government to declare individuals as terrorists. They said the new law was “draconian” and could be misused against anyone opposed to the ruling establishment.
Resuming the discussion in Rajya Sabha on the amendment, Elamaram Kareem (CPM) said the government was imposing “state terrorism” and dissenting individuals can be declared
“This will lead to large-scale harassment and injustice,” he said.
The amendment would give NIA “open license 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 a terrorist organisation,” he said, adding that 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 that 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 provisions of the Bill as draconian, he says 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 Home Minister 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 the 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.
(With inputs from agencies)