Millennium Post

Stern amendments?

Stern amendments?

Monday saw eight bills being introduced in a span of an hour in the lower house of Parliament with expected protests from opposition parties in place much to the scrutiny of a few ones. Two bills, viz., Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019 along with the National Investigation Agency Amendment Bill, 2019 came in contention as the opposition particularly raised pointers regarding legislations that involved public interest. As per the UAPA Bill, 2019, brought in by Home Minister Amit Shah, authorities will be empowered to declare even individuals not associated with any banned outfit as terrorists. Though the opposition offered scrutiny in the right direction, terming it draconian, the bill was passed much to the disappointment of the opposition. Shashi Tharoor reminded the House of the said Act's original purpose which was to use it against collectives and not individuals, citing how "If there is a lone-wolf terrorist, you have ample powers to arrest him. You have plenty of ways to deal with these people. You can seize their properties also". Tharoor enquired the purpose of UAPA in designating individuals as terrorists since UN-designated terrorists can be incorporated under the 2007 UN order. Tharoor was pointing towards the fact that once declared terrorist under the new powers, the onus falls upon the individual to prove their innocence. An organisation may still be able to produce evidence to get a clean chit but how will an individual do so. The provision does not take into account the trouble that an individual will have to go through in order to clear their name. Tharoor quoted former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee who had said in 1967, 'We cannot agree to this bill because any activity which is not tolerable to the government could be called to account by giving an inelastic definition of anti-national activity,' and concluded on how the bill stood against the Constitution of India. Tharoor's words are mere snippets of the great extent to which the Bill, if enacted, can damage society. He simply means to bring attention to the potential misuse that may be feasible once authorities are vested with such powers. Individuals will witness their fundamental rights (for instance, Article 21) getting revoked in a snap with authorities now shifting the burden to prove otherwise on them. And, if Vajpayee's words are to be brought in the picture then it indeed is a dangerous prospect to let the government wield such powers. Ambiguity regarding the criteria and procedure of the process only made the waters muddier. Without any self-checking mechanism developed to control the amendment's provisions, the Bill simply built a hasty picture with scope for misuse as rightly pointed out by the opposition. Complementing this development was the NIA Bill, 2019, which seeks to further strengthen NIA, vesting powers to probe terror attacks targeting Indians and Indian interests on foreign soil. Though the Union Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy asserted that this legislation will also allow NIA to probe cyber crimes and cases of human trafficking, providing NIA with such powers was a dear subject for scrutiny. Opposition voices raised flags about how NIA was not insulated from political interference and there is no mention of measures to check these potential provisions to be granted to NIA which only increases the risk of misuse. Together, both UAPA and NIA Bills seek to provide India's security apparatus with heightened powers while not precisely explaining steps incorporated within which can give rise to several complications. Simply considering the example of Kashmir, the separatist voices stand the threat to be brought down while dissenting voices amongst the youth can be labelled as terror. And, that is only one instance of the wide ramifications that these amendments are capable of. Legislations are in public interest and hence, greater thought ought to be spared for the same.

The government's "zero tolerance" towards terrorism is a principally good ideology but such legislations which can jeopardise individuals and their rights are not the best steps to ensure the same. Individuals who may seem likely to have undertaken unlawful activities or have any affiliation to banned outfits can be handled by existing laws and investigation against them can be initiated with defined steps to govern their case. Drawing a draconian law out of the hat to empower authorities to designate any individual a terrorist is not the best way to show one's approach towards zero-tolerance vis-à-vis terrorism.

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