UAPA: designed to terrorise dissenters

UAPA: designed to terrorise dissenters

Union Home Minister Amit Shah speaks in the Lok Sabha. (LSTV/PTI Photo)

The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (Amendment) Bill passed by the Lok Sabha this week is the latest of the legislations ostensibly aimed at fighting terrorism but actually carrying the potential for misuse against civil and human rights activists, dissenters, political opponents and members of the minority communities. Until now, the UAPA has allowed the government to declare organisations as terrorist organisations and ban them. The amendment proposes to designate individuals also as terrorists if they have links with terrorists or extend help to terrorists. While the existing law allows forfeiture of property representing proceeds of terrorism only with prior approval in writing by the director-general of police (DGP) of the state wherein such property is located, the amendment empowers the director-general (DG) of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to do so. The government has already amended the law governing NIA, giving greater powers to the central agency. With the amendment to UAPA passed, it will assume sweeping powers, on the pretext of implementing a policy of ‘zero tolerance’ to terrorism. 

The government’s power to designate individuals as terrorists enables it to brand them as terrorists without conviction, on mere accusation or suspicion. It is a violation of individual rights and natural justice because the due process of law will be denied to those so branded. The stigma of terrorism will have a serious impact on their lives even if they are released later. It is rights activists and members of the minority communities who mostly suffer harassment from State agencies. Home Minister Amit Shah’s statement that the new law will make it difficult for ‘Urban Maoists’ makes it clear who it is directed against. Individuals may be dubbed terrorists and jailed for their ideologies, and the stringent provisions of the law will make it difficult for them to get redress. Those who oppose the government are called ‘anti-nationals’ now. Soon, they may be branded and treated as terrorists. The law, as amended, can well be used against constitutionally granted civil liberties and free speech. There are concerns over the increasing powers being given to the NIA and diminution of the powers of state police authorities. This is an encroachment on federal powers and this trend is also gaining strength under the Modi government.

Many Opposition parties, including the Congress, had wanted the Bill to be referred to a select committee. It has been pointed out that there were no consultations on such an important legislation, but the government chose to ramrod it through the House. No-one would trust the government’s assurance that the Bill would not be misused. It also needs to be reiterated that it is not through more laws of increasing severity that terrorism can be fought.