A Dangerous Legislation
THE Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill is, by all counts, a dangerous piece of legislation. The UAPA Amendment Bill has been passed by the Lok Sabha and is now being considered in the Rajya Sabha.
Along with the National Investigation Agency Amendment Bill, which has already been adopted by the parliament, these two measures are going to make the laws more draconian in the name of fighting terrorism. This legislation is an attack on federalism, democratic rights and liberty of citizens. The amendments to the UAPA are in three areas.
Firstly, the director general of the NIA is empowered to grant approval of seizure, or, attachment of property when the case is being investigated by the said agency. The amendment does away with a need for prior approval from the state police chief concerned which was in the Act. This is another encroachment on the powers of the state since police and law and order is a state subject.
The second amendment, which is going to pave the way for gross misuse, is the power given to the government to declare an individual as a “terrorist”. At present, the Act provides for organisations or entities to be designated as terrorist.
By this amendment, the ministry of home affairs will get the power to list an individual as a terrorist in a new schedule. Already, in the present Act, there are sufficient provisions for dealing with individuals who are active in terrorist organisations, or, aid terrorist activities. Therefore, what is the need for empowering the government to designate any individual as a terrorist? The designation of someone as a terrorist is not done by any due process. It is not to be done by a court which will examine the evidence and then provide punishment.
By putting someone in the list of terrorists, the government will condemn such a person in the eyes of society and who will suffer the social consequences of being declared a terrorist, including loss of job and facing social boycott. The purpose seems to be to arm the government with a weapon to suppress anyone who questions or opposes the government or subscribes to a revolutionary ideology.
The home minister, Amit Shah, in the Lok Sabha debate revealed what is the motive. He said: “And then there are those who attempt to plant terrorist literature and terrorist theory in the minds of the young. Guns do not give rise to terrorist. The root of terrorism is the propaganda that is done to spread it, the frenzy that is spread”.
The terms `terrorist literature’ and `terrorist theory’ can be interpreted against any form of literature which questions the existing state of affairs. Only a few years ago, there was the notorious case where the evidence for a person charged with sedition was his possessing a biography of Bhagat Singh. Any trade unionist having Marxist literature, or, a political activist distributing Left pamphlets can be accused of being terrorist as per Amit Shah’s definition.
Amit Shah went further in the Lok Sabha and said that: “Those who work for urban Maoists will not be spared”. We already know how the UAPA has been used against activists like Sudha Bharadwaj. Now by this amendment, such persons can be listed as terrorists.
The third amendment is to change the level of the officers who are investigating terrorist offences. At present, the Act empowers a deputy superintendent of police in the NIA to investigate such offences. Now the amendment empowers an inspector of the NIA to investigate offences listed in the Act. For this, the plea given is that there are not sufficient DySPs in the NIA to take up the increasing load of cases. By allowing inspectors to do the job, the scope for misuse will increase.
The amendments to the NIA Act have further strengthened the powers of the agency and expanded its jurisdiction. Cybercrimes, counterfeit currency and manufacture or sale of prohibited arms, which fall under the purview of the state police, have been brought under its jurisdiction. The NIA is becoming a super centralised agency which will ride roughshod over the powers of the state governments and the state police authorities.
Previously, when the UAPA was amended by the UPA government in December 2008 in the aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist attack, certain draconian provisions of the repealed Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) were brought back. For instance, the period of detention without bail for a person charged under the provisions of the UAPA was increased from a maximum period of 90 days to 180 days. The CPI(M) had opposed all such provisions and moved amendments to such clauses in the Bill. The Party had also strongly opposed the government’s refusal to associate state governments in the investigation of terrorist offences to be conducted by the newly set-up National Investigation Agency.
As expected, the UAPA has been constantly misused with these draconian provisions being resorted to. Now the Modi government has gone ahead with more stringent and harmful provisions which are a direct onslaught on the rights and liberties of citizens.
The Modi government has strengthened the authoritarian architecture of a national security State by these amendments. They will also be wielded as a weapon against ideological opponents.
The fight to defend democracy must encompass the struggle to get rid of these draconian laws.
(July 31, 2019)