New Delhi: Just a week after the both Houses of Parliament passed the National Investigation Agency (NIA) bill, the Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill 2019, in a move that gives a big push to India’s internal security machinery.

With the Bill being put to vote in the Lower House, 287 members voted for the bill while eight members dissented, with Congress Members of Parliament (MPs) walking out of the Lok Sabha, demanding that the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act Bill be sent to a Standing Committee for review.

The UAPA Bill was introduced in the Lower House by Union home minister Amit Shah on 8 July, just two weeks after the Union cabinet had cleared it. The Bill amends the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, providing special procedures to deal with terrorist activities, and individuals and groups that foster terrorism in India. It will now be tabled in the Rajya Sabha, where it awaits passage.

Speaking in the Lower House, Union home minister Amit Shah said, “The law is just to finish terrorism in the country and not to misuse it. I assure the house that it will not be misused. The toughest laws are needed to root out terror from its roots. I have merely brought in amendments."

While Congress party Member of Parliament (MP) Karti Chidambaram raised questions about the law being eventually “misused" by governments “in future," he also added that such a law would not be able to prevent any terrorist attacks in the country.

“This is the trend of every government – every government wants to centralize power. But what if there is not an enlightened government? Is this government assuring us that the law will not be misused in future? Are you putting processes in place under which misuse will not happen? Had it (the law) been there earlier, would you have been able to prevent Pulwama or Pathankot? Can they prevent terrorist attacks because there are tougher laws?" Karti Chidambaram said in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday.

While Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MP Supriya Sule also raised the point about the law “unfairly targeting social activists," Shah gave a scathing rebuttal in the Lower House saying, “The police are not interested in nabbing social workers, but those who work to foster Urban Naxalism, do not have our sympathies and we will not tolerate it. They need to be stopped, they misguide the poor and let them pick up arms against the state."

What the Bill proposes

The proposed amendments to the existing Act redefines “Who may commit terrorism", establishing that under the Act, the Centre may designate an organisation as a terrorist organisation if it commits or participates in acts of terrorism, prepares for terrorism, promotes terrorism, or is otherwise involved in terrorism.

The Bill also additionally empowers the government to designate individuals as terrorists on the same grounds.

At the same time, the Bill also paves the way for the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to seize property as part of investigations into terror cases, adding that “if the investigation is conducted by an officer of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the approval of the Director General of NIA would be required for seizure of such property."

Under the existing Act, the investigating officer is required to obtain the prior approval of the Director General of Police (DGP) to seize properties that bear any connection to terrorism.

This, however, was challenged by AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi – who vehemently opposed the Bill — in the Lok Sabha, who said, “When there is seizure of property, where is judicial scrutiny. You are violating federalism. How can NIA take state property? That is a violation."

At the same time, while the existing Act provides for investigation of cases to be conducted by officers of the rank of Deputy Superintendent or Assistant Commissioner of Police or above, the proposed amendment additionally empowers the officers of the NIA — of the rank of Inspector or above, to investigate cases.

Justifying the amendment, Union home minister Amit Shah said, “The NIA is a specialized anti-terror force and it is not a police station. There is an administrative hierarchy and a special review process is followed. There are 250 cases that are pending and SPs (superintendent of police) are less than 25. There is a need for PI (police inspector) to be trained and be allowed to take over such cases as well."

Shah also added that the NIA’s monitoring system had been improved, with the intent of expediting investigation and judgment.

Shah also added that the remand time was required to be 30 days as opposed to the prescribed 14 days given “The complex nature of investigations that NIA has to do -- there are detailed analysis of data and computers that they need to do, counterfeit currencies are involved and so remand provision is for 30 days and not 14 days because the investigation takes time."

Statistics and criticism of the UAPA

According to statistics published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 922 cases were reported under UAPA in 2016, which was 5% than what was recorded in 2014, with 976 cases. At the same time, it was up by 3% from 2015 (897 cases). In total, 2,700 cases were registered over 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The Act assigns absolute power to the central government, by way of which if the Centre deems an activity as unlawful then it may, by way of an Official Gazette, declare it so.

Reiterating this, Union home minister Amit Shah added in the Lok Sabha, “A person can be declared a terrorist when they take part in terror activities, or provide funds, or harbour a terror theory and then spreads it among youth. Terrorism is not just fostered by the gun. Terrorism is also the spread of hate and radicalism. And the House should not object to this definition."

The UAPA – an upgrade on the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act TADA, which was allowed to lapse in 1995 and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) was repealed in 2004 — was originally passed in 1967 under the then Congress government led by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Eventually amendments were brought in under the successive United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governments in 2004, 2008 and 2013.

Till 2004, “unlawful" activities referred to actions related to secession and cession of territory. Following the 2004 amendment, “terrorist act" was added to the list of offences.

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