A change to India’s anti-terror law that gives the government the power to designate an individual as a “terrorist” was cleared by the Rajya Sabha on Friday with 147 lawmakers voting in favour of the bill and 42 against.
The Lok Sabha has already passed the bill.
The Rajya Sabha also rejected the Opposition-sponsored motion seeking to send the amendment to select committee with 104 votes against it as compared to 85 in favour.
The voting followed an intense debate that saw Home Minister Amit Shah attacking the Congress, telling the party to look at ‘its past’ before accusing the government of misusing the law.
“What happened during emergency? All media was banned, all opposition leaders were jailed. There was no democracy for 19 months, and you are accusing us of misusing laws? Kindly look at your past,” the home minister said in Rajya Sabha responding to Congress leader P Chidambaram’s arguments during the debate on Unlawful Activities Prevention (Amendment) Bill.
The bill seeks to designate an individual (as opposed to organisation) suspected to have terror links as a terrorist and allows the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to attach properties linked to a terror investigation without taking permission from the state police.
Designating individuals as “terrorists” is, however, independent of a judicial process. The opposition has raised a red flag over it. It has expressed apprehension that the provision is open to misuse. The process of designating a person as a “terrorist” is an “executive process”. The proposed law does not differentiate among those who have fled the country as against those who are standing trial. Technically, an accused facing trial in a court can be designated as a “terrorist”. Designating a person as a terrorist prior to court’s decision could also vitiate the process of law, experts say.
Former union minister Chidambaram earlier said the Congress was not against the law but opposed the amendment: “If you see reasons for amendment, it says ‘to empower NIA’. In passing you say ‘empowers Centre to add or remove an individual’s name as a terrorist’, this mischief is why we are opposing this amendment, we are not opposing Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.”
The Congress leader said that the issue was that of liberty of an individual and if the law was passed, it would be struck down by courts. “An individual who commits terrorist act is punishable. But there is no clear differentiation driven out between punishing an unlawful association and punishing the member of unlawful organisation. Or if you say they are covered, why have you brought this amendment? What is the purpose of this amendment?” Chidambaram said.
Responding to the Congress leader Shah said, “Senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram asked as to why an individual be named a terrorist when the organisation that he belongs to has already been banned… when one organisation is banned, the same people come with a new one. How long will we keep banning organisations.”