Lok Sabha passes bill to classify individuals as terrorists
The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed amendments to an anti-terror law that home minister Amit Shah said were essential to keep security agencies a step ahead of terrorists as the government sought to allay a combative Opposition’s apprehensions that the legislation could be misused and was in contravention of India’s federal structure.
Shah said the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill 2019 was necessary in the war against terrorism, but his assurances could not pacify the Congress and West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), which boycotted proceedings ahead of the voting on the bill and demanded the bill be sent to a standing committee.
The amendment bill seeks to designate an individual (as opposed to organisation) suspected to have terror links as a terrorist and allows the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to attach properties linked to a terror investigation without taking permission from the state police.
Under the original UAPA Act, the central government may designate a group as a terrorist organisation if it commits or participates in acts of terrorism, prepares for terrorism, promotes terrorism or is otherwise involved in terrorism.
In a muscular speech in the Lower House, Shah hit out at those who he said were encouraging “urban Maoism”, a term loosely used in political rhetoric to describe people supporting Left-wing extremism. “In the name of ideology, some people promote urban Maoism. We have no sympathy for them,” he said. “The only purpose of this law is to root out terrorism... We will ensure that this law will not be misused.”
Shah criticised the Congress for opposing the amendments, and said if the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was correct in amending anti-terror laws during its tenure, so was the incumbent National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.
“The law was enacted in 1967 by a Congress government-led by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and amendments were made to it in 2004, 2008 and 2013 when the Congress was in power. Who made the law stringent?” he asked.
“There is a need for a provision in the bill to designate a person suspected to have terror links as a terrorist. It is necessary to root out terror. United Nations has a procedure for it, the US has it, Pakistan has it, China has it, Israel has it, European Union has it, everyone has done it,” Shah said.
During a division of votes, demanded by All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM)’s Asaduddin Owaisi for consideration of the bill at a time when the Opposition benches were almost empty, 287 parliamentarians supported it and eight opposed it. Amendments introduced by some opposition members in the House were defeated by huge numbers during division of votes. The bill will be taken up by the Rajya Sabha next.
“Some (opposition) members said that we have destroyed the federal structure by bringing this amendment. If the federal structure has been destroyed then it was destroyed during the UPA time as the law was enacted then,” Shah said.
The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, was enacted when Congress leader Indira Gandhi was in power.
During the debate on the amendment bill, TMC parliamentarian Mahua Moitra said it was against the federal structure of the country. “Features of the bill are anti-people and anti-Constitution... it is a very dangerous act,” she added.
“Every time the Opposition disagrees with national security, we are called anti-national by the propaganda machinery and troll army of the government,” Mitra said, triggering uproar at the treasury benches.
Responding to her, SS Ahulwalia of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said members cannot make an allegations against the government without substantiating them. Minister of state for parliamentary affairs Arjun Ram Meghwal said the government had not called anyone “anti-national”.
Participating in the debate, Md Jawed of the Congress said arresting an individual as a terrorist on the basis of suspicion alone was “dangerous”.
Vinayak Raut of the Shiv Sena said the bill would help control terrorist activities. “They [the previous governments] were not successful in controlling terrorism,” he said.
Accusing Owaisi of trying to waste time, ruling party members urged him not to insist on division, leading to an exchange. Even Pinaki Misra of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) said rules should be amended to prevent a single member from demanding division and there should be a requirement of 10%. Several other members, including PP Chaudhury and Rajiv Pratap Rudy (of the BJP), also objected.
“It is my right... Who are you to object... House belongs to everyone,” Owaisi insisted, refusing to yield.
Speaker Om Birla eventually went for the process of division, which was conducted through paper ballots. Then the passage of the amendment bill hit another hurdle when Owaisi repeated his demand for division on an unofficial amendment moved by him.
As Owaisi kept insisting on the division, the members stood up for the counting of numbers.
“I have made the whole government stand up,” said Owaisi.
“We are ready to stand against terrorism. We are standing against terrorism,” replied Anurag Thakur, the minister of state for finance.
Earlier in his speech, Owaisi termed the bill “draconian” and said it lacked judicial review.
“I blame Congress party for this. They are the main culprits for bringing this law. When they are in power they are bigger than the BJP when they lose power they become big brother of Muslims,” he said. “Draconian laws, earlier by Congress and now by BJP, have been used against Muslims and Dalits,” he added.
(with agency inputs)