New Delhi: Union minister of state for home affairs G. Kishen Reddy on Thursday tabled the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019, or the UAPA bill, in the Rajya Sabha, a week after it was passed by the Lok Sabha.
The bill was taken up for discussion only late in the evening, with the discussion being suspended when the House was adjourned at 8pm. The discussion will now resume on Friday after a response from Union home minister Amit Shah.
The bill seeks to amend the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, making special provisions to deal with terrorist activities, as well as individuals and groups that foster or support terrorism. The bill has been criticised by the Opposition for provisions empowering the government to declare individuals as terrorists and seize their property while investigation is on.
The UAPA bill reflects the resolve of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government to crack down on terrorism in the country and comes in the wake of increased crackdowns by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) against various terrorist organizations.
The proposed amendments to the existing Act redefine “who may commit terrorism", establishing that under the bill, the Centre may designate an organization a terrorist organization if it commits or participates in acts of terrorism, prepares for terrorism, promotes terrorism, or is otherwise involved in terrorism.
The “burden of proof" in these cases will fall on the investigating agency, in this case the NIA.
The bill also paves the way for the NIA to seize property as part of investigation into terror cases.
“If the investigation is conducted by an officer of NIA, the approval of the director general of NIA would be required for seizure of such property," it says.
Shah had told the Lower House last week that “a person can be declared a terrorist when they take part in terror activities, or provide funds, or harbour a terror theory."
The Opposition has complained that the Centre could arbitrarily label an individual a terrorist.
“Today, you have kept academics in jail, people who are civil activists. You only portray those people to be terrorists who speak against you. First, you need to specify on what basis will a person be deemed a terrorist? Our problem is that this open-ended definition of a private person as a terrorist is meaningless and unconstitutional," said senior Congress Member of Parliament (MP), Kapil Sibal.
Reddy said the bill was being brought in to designate individuals such as Maulana Masood Azhar, Hafiz Saeed and Dawood Ibrahim as terrorists.
The UAPA Bill has been called an upgrade of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, or TADA, which was allowed to lapse in 1995, and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), which was repealed in 2004. It was originally passed in 1967 under the then Congress government led by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Eventually, amendments were brought in under successive United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governments in 2004, 2008, and 2013.