Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment, Bill 2019

Context

  • Recently, the Lok Sabha passed the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment (UAPA), Bill 2019. 

What is the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and its amendment?

1. UAPA Act currently allows the government to designate any organisation as “terrorist” if it believes that it is involved in terrorism.

2. The amendments passed by the Lok Sabha seeking to empower the Centre to designate individuals as terrorists.

3. Banned outfits often change their names. So, there’s a need for a provision to declare an individual as a terrorist.

Why is this amendment being criticized?

1. The proposed amendments to the UAPA do not spell out who is a terrorist.

2. It merely says that the Centre may designate a person or an outfit “as terrorist if it (he/she) commits or participates in acts of terrorism, prepares for terrorism, promote terrorism, or is otherwise involved in terrorism”.

3. The vagueness means that the Centre and investigative agencies have wide discretionary powers to decide what constitutes a terrorist offence.

4. The proposed amendments are also troubling due to changes made to the National Investigation Agency law.

5. The amended NIA law gives the agency the power to investigate terror crimes relating to Indians and interests of India. But the amendments do not define “interests of India”.

6. The references of the Home Minister regarding “Urban Maoists” during the debate have raised fears that the government could use its power to tag a person as a “terrorist” to stifle dissent or to target people from specific communities.

Which are other concerns?

1. The new NIA law gives the agency powers to investigate crimes related to human trafficking, offences related to counterfeit currency, manufacture or sale of prohibited arms, cyber-terrorism and offences under the Explosive Substances Act.

2. These functions were performed by the police of the state concerned. The policing powers of states will be further curtailed if the amendments to the UAPA act are approved.

3. For example, the provision to empower the head of the NIA to approve the forfeiture of properties of “those involved in terrorist activities” undermines the role of the Director-General of Police in the states.

Where lies the way forward?

1. The amendment is required to bolster national security. But there must be a distinction between an individual and an organisation, and it must be kept in mind that the Constitution guarantees the former the right to life and liberty.

2. The government must also rethink regarding the issues pertaining to the rights of life and liberty, and to federalism when the amendments to the UAPA come up for debate in the Rajya Sabha.

Source: The Indian Express