UAPA Amendment Bill Passed in Lok Sabha

The provision in the Bill to designate a person suspected to have terror links as a terrorist is necessary to root out terror, home minister Amit Shah.

New Delhi: A Bill that amended provisions to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act was passed by the Lok Sabha amid high drama and concerns raised by opposition members.

Home minister Amit Shah on Wednesday defended amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, saying they are was essential to keep law enforcement agencies one step ahead of terrorists. He asserted anti-terror laws would not be misused and used only to root out terrorism.

He said that the provision in the UAPA (Amendment) Bill to designate a person suspected to have terror links as terrorist is necessary to root out terror.

Hitting out at the Congress for opposing the amendment, he said if the UPA was correct in amending anti-terror laws in their tenure, then so is the NDA.

He said, in the name of ideology, some people promote urban Maoism and the government has no sympathy towards them. “Urban Maoism” is a term used by the BJP and its ideological allies for those it claims support Maoists, and said the government had no sympathy for them.

The government fights terrorism and it should not matter which party is in power, Shah said, referring to amendments made in anti-terror laws by successive governments.

High drama

There was high-voltage drama for about half an hour when AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi demanded division at the time of passage of the amendments to the UAPA.

The demand of division on the anti-terror bill by Owaisi at a time when the opposition benches were almost empty, with the Congress and Trinamool Congress having walked out, evoked sharp reaction from the treasury benches.

Also Read: Between the NIA Amendment and Now UAPA, the Squeeze on Human Rights is On

Accusing Owaisi of trying to waste time, the ruling party members urged him not to insist on division. Then heated exchanges were witnessed between Owaisi and members of NDA.

Even Pinaki Misra of 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 P.P. Chaudhury and Rajiv Pratap Rudy (both BJP) too objected to Owaisi’s demand for division.

“It is my right… Who are you to object…House belongs to everyone”, insisted Owaisi, refusing to yield.

With no option left, speaker Om Birla pressed the process of division which was conducted through paper ballots. The electronic voting machine could not used as members have not been allotted division numbers.

The government’s resolution was adopted with 287 in favour and eight against, though it took time for the Lok Sabha staff to distribute and collect ballot papers.

The passage of the amendment Bill hit yet another hurdle when Owaisi repeated his demand for division on an unofficial amendment moved by him.

“You are demanding it unnecessarily…” said Birla.

“I have a right (to demand division),” insisted Owaisi.

In an apparent bid to save time, Birla invoked rules which provide for counting of numbers by making members stand during the voting process.

As Owaisi kept on insisting on division, the members had to stand up for counting of numbers. It happened thrice during the process of passage of the amendment Bill, though each time the opposition member’s amendments were defeated by huge margin.

“I have made the whole government stand up,” said an elated Owaisi.

Asaduddin Owaisi. Credit: PTI/Files

Asaduddin Owaisi. Credit: PTI/Files

Opposition members express concerns

Members of the opposition in the Lok Sabha raised concern over amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act on Wednesday, saying the provisions were against the federal structure of the country.

The proposed law allows the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to go to any state without taking permission from state police concerned for checking anti-terror activities.

This is against the federal structure of the country, Mahua Moitra (TMC) said during a debate on the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill 2019.

Opposing the Bill, she said when the NIA itself is under a cloud, there is also apprehension of the agency being misused for political vendetta.

“Features of the Bill are anti-people and anti-Constitution…it is a very dangerous act,” she added.

During the debate, Moitra said, “One runs a risk of being branded as anti-national if you oppose the government”.

“Every time the opposition disagrees with national security, we are called anti-national by the propaganda machinery and troll army of the government,” she said amid uproar from treasury benches.

S.S. Ahulwalia (BJP) raised a point of order that members cannot make allegations against the government without substantiating it.

Also Read: What If This Is the Hindu Rashtra?

Minister of state for parliamentary affairs Arjun Ram Meghwal said it is derogatory and the government has not called anyone anti-national.

However, after intervention from the chair she was allowed to speak.

The provision to declare an individual as a terrorist is without due process and against the principle of natural justice, she said.

Supriya Sule (NCP) said when amendments to the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) and National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) were made, the then chief minister (Narendra Modi) of Gujarat had “opposed” the Bills.

“It was the Centre’s duty to consult states…federal structures are being snatched,” she said quoting the then chief minister of Gujarat.

She said there should not be misuse of the law.

Innocent people should not be unnecessarily harassed, she said, adding that the federal structure should be maintained.

Danish Ali (BSP) raised apprehensions about the misuse of the proposed law and of innocents being harassed.

Citing examples of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA), he said these laws were repealed by this House itself because of rampant misuse.

V.N. Borlakunta (TRS) said the provision of the Bill is taking away rights of states and it is against the federal spirit of the Constitution.

Pointing out that the proposed amendment gives absolute power to the central government, Mohammad Jawed (Congress) said that arresting an individual as a terrorist on the basis of suspicion alone is “dangerous”.

Will the government provide compensation to those who are victims of misuse of such a law, if applied, he asked.

Participating in the debate, Vinayak Raut (Shiv Sena) said the bill would help in controlling terrorist activities in the country.

He alleged that the previous government was not able to control this menace because they used laws for political purposes.

“They were not successful in controlling terrorism,” he said.

He demanded the government further strengthen the judicial system for timely implementation of rulings in terrorism-related cases to create fear in minds of terrorists.

“Within three years, it should be implemented,” Raut said.

Pinaki Misra (BJD) said there should be better coordination among different agencies and NIA. The coordination should be done through an institutionalised set up and not on a case-to-case basis, he said.

He also suggested that crimes including bio-terrorism and narco-terrorism should be covered under the purview of this law.

“State should also give time-bound reports..Judicial system needs to be further strengthened and there is also a need for police reforms,” he said.

Misra also said that there is a need to ensure that minorities do not suffer and the police should file a charge sheet within 90 days and not 180 days as mentioned in the Bill.

He added that people gave large mandate to this government as they have trust that it would provide proper safety and security.

(With PTI inputs)