UAPA Bill passed in Rajya Sabha: All you need to know about Anti-terror Bill

On Friday, the Rajya Sabha passes amendment to anti-terror law to give powers to government to declare individual as terrorist with 147 votes in favour and 42 against it.

Rajya Sabha, on Thursday, took up the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019. This comes a week after it was passed by the Lok Sabha. The bill was taken up for discussion only late in the evening, with the discussion being suspended when the House was adjourned at 8 pm. The discussion resumed back on Friday, August 2, after a response from Union home minister Amit Shah.

What is UAPA Bill?

The bill seeks to amend the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, making special provisions to deal with terrorist activities, as well as individuals and groups that foster or support terrorism.

Under the Act, the central government may designate an organisation as a terrorist organisation if it: (i) commits or participates in acts of terrorism, (ii) prepares for terrorism, (iii) promotes terrorism, or (iv) is otherwise involved in terrorism. The Bill additionally empowers the government to designate individuals as terrorists on the same grounds.

The “burden of proof" in these cases will fall on the investigating agency, in this case the NIA. The bill also paves the way for the NIA to seize property as part of investigation into terror cases. The Bill adds that if the investigation is conducted by an officer of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the approval of the Director General of NIA would be required for seizure of such property.

Under the Act, investigation of cases may be conducted by officers of the rank of Deputy Superintendent or Assistant Commissioner of Police or above. The Bill additionally empowers the officers of the NIA, of the rank of Inspector or above, to investigate cases.

The Act defines terrorist acts to include acts committed within the scope of any of the treaties listed in a schedule to the Act. The Schedule lists nine treaties, including the Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997), and the Convention against Taking of Hostages (1979). The Bill adds another treaty to the list. This is the International Convention for Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005).

The controversy

The bill has been criticised by the Opposition for provisions empowering the government to declare individuals as terrorists and seize their property while investigation is on.

Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad termed the government's insistence of taking up the Bill as "unfair" and accused the government of getting the Bills passed without proper scrutiny. "This is unjust and unfair on the part of the government. You are getting the Bills passed without scrutiny and that too in the extended session of the Parliament. We wanted the Bill to be sent to Select Committee but you did not agree," Azad said. The senior Congress leader urged the government to take up the Bill on Friday and get it passed after detailed discussion. "We do not have any objections in sitting late till night. We have done so in the past too," he said.

Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad termed the government's insistence of taking up the Bill as "unfair" and accused the government of getting the Bills passed without proper scrutiny. "This is unjust and unfair on the part of the government. You are getting the Bills passed without scrutiny and that too in the extended session of the Parliament. We wanted the Bill to be sent to Select Committee but you did not agree," Azad said. The senior Congress leader urged the government to take up the Bill on Friday and get it passed after detailed discussion. "We do not have any objections in sitting late till night. We have done so in the past too," he said.

The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment (UAPA) Bill is "a dangerous piece of legislation" and will be used against the BJP's ideological opponents, the CPI-M has said. An editorial in the CPI-M journal "People's Democracy" said that along with the National Investigation Agency Amendment Bill, which has already been adopted by 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... As expected, the UAPA has been constantly misused... 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 editorial said. "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."

Continuing his attack on the government over the speed with which bills were passed in this Parliament session, TMC MP Derek O'Brien asked "Are we delivering pizzas or passing legislation?" O'Brien earlier said that the way bills were being passed amounted to "mockery of Parliament" and the government was "smothering" the opposition. "Parliament is supposed to scrutinise bills. This chart explains the bulldozing this session. Are we delivering pizzas or passing legislation?" he tweeted.

Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma said the government has "broken the trust" between it and the opposition. Sharma said that none of their MPs had abstained wilfully. "Let me reject it," he said. "We did ask our MPs to be present but had we received the information, there would have been a specific whip by the party that this bill will be particularly taken up," he said. "This will be the first session since 1993 in which the government has not given a bill, either in the Lok Sabha or in the Rajya Sabha, to the standing committee or select committee or the joint select committee for consideration. "This is happening for the first time in the last 25 to 27 years. The reason for this is that the government does not care about democracy, Parliament, or about the judiciary," he told reporters outside Parliament.

(Inputs from Agencies)

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