Rajya Sabha passes UAPA Bill, now individuals can be designated as terrorists

The Rajya Sabha passed the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment (UAPA) Bill, 2019 on August 2, 2019. The bill has been passed amid strong protest by opposition parties over specific provisions of the bill. Amid protest from opposition, Rajya Sabha rejected the opposition-sponsored motion to send the bill to select committee with 104 votes against it as compared to 85 in favour.

Earlier, the Rajya Sabha refused the proposal to send this bill to the  Select Committee of Parliament for further scrutiny. The main contentious issue of this bill was to designate a person as a terrorist once this bill is enacted. However, the government refused to budge on this demand from opposition to send it for further scrutiny.  

The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment (UAPA) Bill, 2019 was first introduced in the Lok Sabha by Union Home Minister, Amit Shah on July 8, 2019. The bill gives special powers to deal with terrorist activities in the country. The Bill amends the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.

Individual can be declared as terrorist

Amendment of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA) allows the Central government to designate an individual as a terrorist. As per the existing UAPA, the Central government can only designate organizations, and not individuals, as terrorists. Director-General of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) can grant approval of seizure or attachment of property associated with terrorism when the said agency investigates the case.

The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Bill, 2019 broadens the scope of what constitutes a terrorist act. It has added International Convention for Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005) to the schedule to the UAPA Bill, 2019. Amendment to Schedule 4 of the UAPA will allow the NIA to declare an individual suspected as a terrorist.

Why important to designate individual as terrorist?

As per the present Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 there is no such provision in the UAPA or any other legislation that can designate an individual as a terrorist. Union Home Minister Amit Shah said in the house that when a terrorist organization is banned, its members form a new organization. Therefore, it is essential to declare guilty individuals as terrorists. United Nations and some other developed nations have similar provisions. No changes have been made in arrest or bail provisions and there will be no violation of fundamental rights of any person.

 More power to NIA officers

It provides NIA Inspector or above to investigate cases under UAPA, 2019. At present only Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) and Deputy Superintendent of Police are allowed to investigate the cases. UAPA Bill, 2019 adds that if NIA officer is conducting the investigation then approval of the Director-General of Police would not be required.

Insertion of treaties

The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019 has included nine national-international treaties against terrorism, including the Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997), and the Convention against Taking of Hostages (1979)  and the International Convention for Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005).

Background

The UAPA Bill has been called an upgraded version of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, or TADA, and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), which was repealed in 2004. It was originally passed in 1967 under the then Congress government led by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. After that several amendments were made in under successive UPA governments in 2004, 2008, and 2013.

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