By Ritwik Sharma
On 23rd July 2019, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill 2019 was passed by the Lok Sabha amid protests from both within the House as well as outside it. The opposition staged a walkout after it lost the motion to send the Bill to the Parliamentary Standing Committee for further scrutiny.
The Bill was introduced on 8th July, 2019 in order to make amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 which deals provides a unique procedure to deal with terrorists and terrorism.
The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 is an upgraded version of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) or infamously known as the TADA Act which lapsed in 1995 and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) which was repealed in 2004. Moreover, multiple amendments have been introduced under the UAP Act since 2004. However, till 2004, only acts related to secession and cession of territory were classified as “unlawful” activities. Following the 2004 Amendment, “terrorist act” was added to the list of offences.
According to the National Crimes Record Bureau (NRCB) statistical data, 922 cases were reported in 2016, 897 cases were reported in 2015 and 976 cases were reported in 2014 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.
Firstly, the Bill seeks to empower the government to designate or remove an organisation or an individual as a terrorist organisation or a terrorist by amending Section 35 and 36 of the original Act. An individual or an organisation is liable to punishment under this Bill if it: a) commits or participates in terrorist activities, b) prepares to undertake terrorist activities, c) propagates terrorism, d) otherwise involved in terrorist activities.
Secondly, the Bill aims to make changes to Section 43 of the original act which allowed investigation to be conducted by officers of the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police or Assistant Commissioner of Police. However, the Bill has given powers to the NIA officers to investigate cases as well.
Thirdly, the Bill seeks to amend Section 25 of the original Act. Section 25 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, requires an investigating officer to seek prior approval of the Director-General of Police before seizing any property that may be connected to terrorist activities. The Bill inserts a provision which states that if the investigation is conducted by an officer of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), prior approval of the Director-General of NIA would be mandatory.
Fourthly, the original Act has defined terrorist acts to include acts committed within the scope of any of the treaties which have been listed under the schedule of the Act. The Bill aims to add the International Convention for Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism to the list which already includes treaties like Convention against Taking of Hostages (1979) and Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997).
Firstly, the designation of an individual as a terrorist raises serious eyebrows since the government has not introduced any procedure to do so. The Bill fails to consider the fact whether an individual is designated as “terrorist” before or after the conviction in the court of law. The government needs to specify the exact meaning of the term “Urban Naxals” as under the pretext, critics of the government may be targeted or made to live in constant fear of being designated as a terrorist.
Secondly, the Bill provides that an individual may be arrested and detained even after obtaining bail from the courts. Such repressive measure not only restricts travelling and movement but also impinges upon the dignity of the individual.
Thirdly, in case the individual has been acquitted by the Court after being designated as terrorist under this Bill, the entire process of removing the name of the individual becomes another procedural bottleneck.
Fourthly, the Bill allows the National Investigation Agency to investigate in the matters related to terrorism which is against the federal principles since NIA is a central agency. According to the rules of criminal procedure, the State Police is empowered to conduct investigation in such matters.
It is important for India to enact strict laws to curb terrorists and terrorism but such laws should be enacted with due care and motive. Designating an individual as a terrorist without a due procedure raises crucial constitutional questions which need to be answered.
Having said that, the Bill will now be presented in the Rajya Sabha after its passage in the Lok Sabha and it is pertinent that it should be carefully scrutinised not only by the House but also by the Committees set up within the Parliament.
The Government must have zero-tolerance towards terrorism but it must also be aware of its responsibility to protect the fundamental and human rights of the citizens before enacting such legislation.
[‘The author is a lawyer based in Delhi. He graduated from Amity Law School in 2018.]