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Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019

Bill to tag individuals as terrorists passed by RS

The Rajya Sabha passed the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019 on Friday with 147 lawmakers voting in favour of the legislation and 42 against it.

india Updated: Aug 02, 2019 23:50 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The House rejected an Opposition-sponsored motion seeking to send the amendment to a select committee -- a panel composed of MPs from across parties -- with 104 votes against the motion, compared to 85 in favour.
The House rejected an Opposition-sponsored motion seeking to send the amendment to a select committee -- a panel composed of MPs from across parties -- with 104 votes against the motion, compared to 85 in favour.(PTI)
         

Parliament on Friday approved crucial amendments to an anti-terror law to designate individuals (as opposed to organisations) as terrorists if they are suspected to have terror links and which empowers the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to seize their assets without requiring the prior permission of state police.

The Rajya Sabha passed the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019 on Friday with 147 lawmakers voting in favour of the legislation and 42 against it. The Lok Sabha last week passed the bill, which now only requires presidential assent to become law.

The Congress initially demanded that the bill be referred to a select committee for further review, but subsequently voted in favour of its passage.

The House rejected an Opposition-sponsored motion seeking to send the amendment to a select committee -- a panel composed of MPs from across parties -- with 104 votes against the motion, compared to 85 in favour.

Forty-one Congress MPs, and all Trinamool Congress, Peoples Democratic Party, Telugu Desam Party, Aam Aadmi Party and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam members voted in favour of sending the bill to a select committee.

But the absence of seven MPs from the Samajwadi Party and two from the Nationalist Congress Party depleted the Opposition’s tally.The Bahujan Samaj Party, Biju Janata Dal and YSR Congress Party supported the bill.

Voting followed an intense debate in which several Opposition parties raised concerns about potential misuse of the law that will empower the government to designate individuals as terrorists and could set state police forces on a collision course with the Centre’s NIA.

Responding to the debate, home minister Amit Shah said it was imperative to strengthen the country’s intelligence agencies and ensure they were “four steps” ahead of the terrorists. He said several countries such as the United States, China, Israel, Pakistan and even an organisation like the United Nations designate individual as terrorists.

Targeting the Congress in the house, Shah cited the example of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency rule in the 1970s and said the party should not be talking about the misuse of laws.

“What happened during the Emergency? The media was banned and Opposition leaders were jailed…and you are accusing us of misusing laws? Kindly look at your own past,” the minister said, responding to Congress leader P Chidambaram’s arguments during the debate.

Stressing the need to designate individuals as terrorists, Shah said banning organizations was not enough as these had a tendency to regroup under different names and carry on with their activities. “Till the time we don’t name individuals as terrorists, there cannot be a check on these activities,” he asserted. He said all parties should welcome the bill because terrorism has no religion and terrorists act against humanity.

The home minister said the Congress had brought the original law and the BJP had supported amendments to the legislation in 2004, 2008 and 2013. “We have always supported a strong law against terrorism and have been committed to any amendment in the past also. A tough law is required to uproot terrorism from India,” he said.

Shah said the NIA’s conviction record in terror cases was outstanding and the amendment would expedite prosecution of such cases. He said of the 278 cases registered by the NIA up to July 31, 2019, the agency had filed charge sheets in 204 and of the 54 cases decided, 48 ended in convictions .

Taking part in the debate, Chidambaram said the Congress was opposing the “mischievous amendment” that empowered the government to name an individual as a terrorist if “it believes” such a person was involved in terrorism.

“Let me caution you, it (the law) will be struck down by the courts. We are doing something that is hopelessly unconstitutional,” he said

Chidambaram said the Congress was not against all provisions of the bill but opposed only certain clauses. “When will you name an individual as a terrorist…at what stage? Please clarify,we may reconsider our position,” he said before the party eventually decided to vote in favour of the legislation.

Opposing the bill, the Communist Party of India-Marxist’s Elamaram Kareem said the government was imposing “state terrorism” in the name of combating terrorism. Nominated member KTS Tulsi said the bill ran a serious risk of being declared unconstitutional.

Reacting to the bill being passed, author and academic Manisha Sethi said the country was one step closer to becoming a police state. “Now the executive will have the powers to declare an individual as a terrorist without going through judicial proceedings,” she said.