UAPA Amendment Bill! Litmus test for Congress’s stand on national security

India in recent weeks, has witnessed some legal changes that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has been pursuing with respect to the national security framework.

One of these changes is via The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019 (UAPA Bill) which was passed in the Lok Sabha last week.

The UAPA Bill aims to amend the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAP Act). This Act is a detailed Central legislation that seeks to provide rules and procedures to deal with terrorist and other unlawful activities that affect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of India.

The UAPA Bill essentially proposes to make four changes to the existing UAP Act:

  • It allows the Central government, subject to certain procedural requirements and conditions, to designate an individual as a terrorist. As per the existing UAP Act, the Central government can only designate organizations, and not individuals, as terrorists.
  • It empowers the Director General of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to grant approval of seizure or attachment of property associated with terrorism when the said agency investigates the case. The existing UAP Act requires the Central government to obtain prior approval from the highest police officer in a state (ie, The Director General of Police) before seizing or attaching any property associated with terrorism.
  • It allows officers of the NIA, of the rank of Inspector or above, to investigate cases under the UAP Act. As per the existing UAP Act, only officers of the rank of Deputy Superintendent or Assistant Commissioner of Police or above are allowed to investigate cases.
  • It broadens the scope of what constitutes a terrorist act. Among other things, the existing UAP Act defines terrorist acts to include acts committed within the scope of certain treaties listed in the schedule to the Act. The UAPA Bill has added another treaty, namely the International Convention for Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005) to the schedule to the UAP Act.

The new amendments to the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act in Parliament wasn’t without opposition, even though Home Minister Amit Shah put up a strong defence.

There will always be Left-oriented fringe elements influencing the Congress party to oppose everything that NDA does. Such a stand will take the 134-year-old party to further disintegration.

The opposition has called the amendment bill “draconian” but the intention of the government is clear. A quick analysis of the nature of terror attacks and the methods used will reveal the changing nature of these incidents.

The world has witnessed a rise in what is now commonly referred to as ‘lone wolf’ attack – one that is carried out by an individual motivated by radical ideology or extremist views.

India’s former home minister (and now defence minister) Rajnath Singh had last year referred to the ‘do it yourself’ and ‘lone wolf’ “kind of terror attacks as a major challenge  the government and for security agencies”.

Moreover, opposition members like Mahua Moitra questioned the amendment’s intention without really having a fact check. Set up in 1961 by the first Prime Minister of India, It was the National Integration Council, set up in 1962, which had unanimously recommended enacting a strong law aimed at effectively preventing activities considered unlawful and detrimental to the unity, integrity, and sovereignty of the country.

Laws to curb violence against SC/ST and women and minorities were recommended but terrorism did not find a place in this list as it was not as much a threat then as it is today.

Also, the Constitution (Sixteenth Amendment) Act, 1963, which was passed by both Houses of Parliament in 1967 during the Congress’ reign under former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, had imposed heavy restrictions on freedom of speech and expression, right to assembly, and even the fundamental right to form associations or unions.

Strangely, the opposition had protested then but was unable to prevent the passage of the Bill, which was considered an attack on citizens’ democratic rights.

Home Minister Amit Shah read out the riot act to the protesting Congress members in Parliament and reminded them that it was their own towering leader who had first brought this ‘draconian’ law.

The opposition’s another charge – that the amendments are against the federal structure of India – also falls flat as some non-BJP state governments (for instance, in Chhattisgarh) favour a strong law to tackle the NaxalMaoist menace. Naxal menace affects economic growth and development, and challenges the authority of the duly elected state government.

Even after more than 70 years of Independence, there are areas in the Naxal-affected districts where the writ of the government does not run.

Salwa Judum, the anti-Naxal movement that mobilised local tribal youth was the brainchild of a Congress member, Mahendra Karma, who started it in 2005. The movement was put to best use by the BJP government under former chief minister Raman Singh.

Ironically, it was individual Naxal sympathisers, often categorised as “urban Maoists”, who got the outfit banned by the Supreme Court and weakened the movement. The Naxalite operators regrouped and in 2013 mounted a fatal attack on Mahendra Karma and other members of the Congress party in Darbha Valley near Raipur, Chhattisgarh.

The home minister’s resolve echoes the sentiments of the majority of the people who want a safe and secure environment in society. “The only purpose of this law is to root out terrorism”, Amit Shah told the House, which should have been welcomed by the opposition.

The only thing government needs to convince opposition is of swift action. The amended law does put unrestricted powers in the hands of the police and other law enforcing agencies.

Many times, these agencies not only lack coordination but may even end up working against each other.

Corruption in some of the executive and a s judiciary section is not unknown to the government or the political parties. Often times, one or two corrupt individuals can bring disrepute to the entire organisation or the government.

The home minister only needs to assure the country that strictest possible action will be taken to root out terrorism. But as for congress it is right time to take stand. They can be part of construction of a secure nation or they can fall to new low by succumbing to urban Naxal fringe.

Source- Reports on UAPA by India Today, The Print, The First Post.

Dr Sindhu Prashanth