**This is the last issue of Laws for Laymen, an article series analysing the recent legislations that have been passed in the Parliament. Find a link to the third issue here:Laws for Laymen: Is the Triple Talaq Act (2019) Economically Viable? **
The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019 was passed in the Upper House of the Parliament in the last week. With the recent amendment in the bill, certain ripples of controversies spread across the country and the legitimacy of this bill now was questioned by many. The amendment now empowers and allows the Union Home Ministry to identify or rather designate certain individuals as terrorists. This legislation was passed with the support of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Congress, while certain other political parties like the CPI(M), CPI, TDP, DMK, AAP, RJD and The Trinamool Congress were in opposition of this bill being passed. When the total count was taken, it was seen that out of 240 members in the Upper House of the Parliament, 147 members had voted for the bill being passed and 42 members had gone against it.
Under this particular act, the government at the centre is empowered with the right to designate a particular organisation or an individual as a terrorist or terrorist organisation if it/he/she helps in any kind of preparatory mechanism for terrorist activity, is involved in terrorism (directly or indirectly), promotes terrorism or commits acts of terrorism. Additionally, this act also permits the seizure of certain property from organisations or individuals with suspicious profiles. The officer who is supposed to be in charge of investigation is supposed to obtain prior permission from the DGP to investigate and even seize properties that might be related to terrorists. In other cases where further investigations may be carried forward by authorities from the National Investigation Agency, the prior approval of the Director General of NIA is essential to the case. This Act specifies that such kind of cases shall he handled and investigated by officials who hold the post of ACP, DSP or above. In cases where investigations shall be carried forward by the NIA, cases shall be handled by officials who hold the rank of an inspector or above.
The bill was verified and passed by the Lower House of the Parliament on the 24th of July, 2019. After the final confirmation from the Rajya Sabha is obtained, it will soon be circulated as a law. Amit Shah (Home Minister) has stated that solving issues related to terrorist activities has been a complex procedure and this law in action will formulate an easier understanding of the problem-solution mismatch.
This bill was particularly more important and relevant and hence much debated across the country because it deals with merely identifying terrorist organisations. It now empowers certain ministeries to identify individuals as terrorists and take stringent actions against them only on the basis of suspicious activity. When certain parties like the Congress expressed opposition to the proposal of this idea and raised several questions about its legitimacy, Mr. Shah pointed out that the cons that would come out due to the misuse of this law would not outweigh the goods. He also pointed out that there are several instances in the past to illustrate the fact that this law is very much required, especially with the context of opposition leaders being jailed in the past at the times of emergency.
Several attempts were made by the officials to justify this law being passed and glorify its efficiency in eradicating terrorism. The necessity of such a law was supported by examples of several other countries, including those of the European Union and United Nations, Pakistan, Israel, China and also United States that have certain laws to designate individuals as terrorists. The track record of the National Investigation Agency was highlighted and a significant part of the discussion. The agency has registered a total of 278 cases of terrorism so far, out of which charge sheets have been filed in 204 cases. In the remaining 54 cases where judgement has been passed, 48 cases has been convicted. In terms of individuals involved and arrested, there were a total of 221 convicted individuals and 92 of them were acquitted by the courts. Within the time period of 1st June 2014 to July 2019, a total of 131 charge sheets have been filed related to terror cases.
Leaders from various different political parties had divided opinions on the matter. Leaders of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) were disappointed because in most cases such laws were counter-productive and could result in the people of Kashmir being sent to jail. Leaders from the Congress rightly pointed out that this would be an extremely authoritarian approach to curb terrorism within the country, in fact this would be an infringement upon individual rights and freedom. Mr. P. Chidambaram clarified that he specifically had issues with certain amendments in the law including the change that empowered the central government to now designate an individual as a terrorist although the organisation he worked for might have been banned altogether. Yet another prominent Congress leader Digvijay Singh expressed his strong discontent with the bill and explicitly mentioned that he was not sure about the intentions of the government.
A few opposition leaders were right to some extent in questioning the intent of the government, but Mr. Amit Shah just laughed away at the criticisms saying that the opposition leaders might be angry about something. Leaders from the Congress, MDMK and the Trinamool Congress expressed their genuine concerns regarding the fact that this law could now be easily misused to target people who might say anything against the government or anything in criticism of the government’s actions. Moreover, Mr. Kapil Sibbal pointed out several loopholes within the law and showed everyone that the bill did not have a concrete checking mechanism to identify at which point an individual could be declared to be a terrorist. Oppositions reminded the House that in the past, certain activists and academicians who spoke against the government had been labelled as ‘urban naxals’. Given this, how could the government assure that they would let this bill remain transparent and just in its classification of terrorists and not let it be clouded by their otherwise intolerant attitude?
Sukhendu Sekhar Ray who is a member of the Trinamool Congress said that individuals who might be fighting for certain things with their best intentions in order to enforce better laws for tribal rights or even environmental preservation could now be a terrorist under the regime of this law being in power. Additionally, he gave examples of individuals like Mr. Abdul Ghani Goni who was a Kashmiri trader and was put behind the bars on charges of terrorism was released after 23 years of arrest. He showed a more intensified picture of how malfunctioning or misuse of this law could affect an individual’s life to a huge extent. He said the government’s power to put this malicious label on any individuals would be detrimental to the essence of democracy in a country and also outweigh the goods it would bring. He brought out the history of the kind of cases brought under the UAPA. 75% of the total people charged have been proven to be innocent later, but the kind of label that it puts on them is something they carry with them all their lives.
Enforcement of this law would also require simultaneous enforcement of more responsible and tolerant actions from the government. The centre needs to be more aware about the kind of stigma that being labelled as a terrorist brings to an individual especially when he/she is being investigated on the basis of suspicious activity only. While this might have certain positive outcomes in dealing with terrorism as a whole, the consequential harm that it shall bring with it almost mandatorily has to be dealt with in a responsible and tolerant manner.