A law to tighten the country’s lead anti-terror law and empower the government to designate individuals as terrorists has been cleared by the Lok Sabha on Wednesday. The lower house’s vote came minutes after Home Minister Amit Shah put up a strong defence of the government’s proposal, arguing that terrorists such as Indian Mujahideen’s Yasin Bhatkal, who stayed under the radar for years, would have been caught much earlier if they had been designated as terrorists.
“It would have been possible to track them down before he carried out 11 explosions”, Shah said. The Congress, which had demanded that the bill be referred to a standing committee for scrutiny, walked out when the government did not relent, insisting that the changes needed to be carried out urgently to check terrorism. “If vote bank is stopping the Opposition and that’s why, they are walking out, then so be it,” Shah said as many opposition leaders walked out.
The anti-terror law, so far, only had provisions to ban groups as individual groups, not individuals. Lately, there had been some judicial rulings that had made it difficult for the agencies to prosecute people accused of being members of banned groups. The amendment seeks to plug this gap.
Pitching for support to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019, Shah questioned arguments from the opposition benches that spoke about the misuse of provisions of the anti-terror law.
“The criminal procedure code is also misused…. So should it also be abolished,” he shot back. Shah presented the same argument to counter arguments that many people convicted of terror were eventually let off.
“People charged with murder under Section 302 of the penal code are also acquitted… Should 302 be removed from the penal code,” he asked.
Shah said the fact was that security agencies which fight terror needed laws with teeth on their side, not the ones that couldn’t bite.
The home minister, who responded to concerns expressed by opposition leaders over the amendments, also rebutted a suggestion that activists who propagate a different ideology should not be treated as terrorists.
Shah rejected the suggestion. It is not just the people who wield the gun who should be treated as terrorists but also those who nurture, prepares and funds terrorists.
“Same for those who propagate literature and theory of terror to brainwash the youth… I believe terrorism is not born out of the barrel of the gun,” he said, holding the misinformation campaign run by terrorists masquerading as activists and ideologues responsible for spread of terrorism and extremism.
The government has no sympathy for people who promote urban Maoism in the name of ideology, he said.
The amendment cleared by the Lok Sabha – 288 members voted in favour and eight against – on Wednesday aims to achieve three major objectives. One, it allows the National Investigation Agency to attach property of terrorists on orders of the NIA chief and not the state government concerned. The second change allows the government to declare an individual as a terrorist and the third, empowers inspector-rank officers to probe terror cases.
Shah said the existing law that stipulated that a Superintendent of Police-rank officer would be the investigating officer was slowing down trials and investigations. The NIA has just about 25 SPs but many more cases before courts. Since the investigating officer has to be present in court on every date, it had taken a toll on the trials.