UAPA bill in Rajya Sabha: Opposition in Rajya Sabha questions government’s intent

The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) Amendment Bill, 2019, which enables the government to designate individuals as terrorists, was tabled in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday.

Several Opposition parties including the Congress, Samajwadi Party, Trinamool Congress and MDMK opposed the bill. Expressing concerns about its draconian provisions, the opposition MPs said the law would be used against anyone who opposed the government.

Asserting that the Government would be able to pass the bill through “brute majority” in the Lok Sabha and by a “manufactured majority” in the Rajya Sabha, Kapil Sibal of the Congress said it would be struck down by the courts.

“At what stage will you declare an individual as a terrorist: at the time of arrest, when you file a charge sheet or after trial is completed? It’s not clear,” said Mr. Sibal. “And if he is already being tried for a terrorist offence, you cannot declare him as a terrorist as legally a person is innocent till proven guilty. The Bill will be challenged in court and struck down, it’s better you send it to a select committee,” Mr. Sibal argued.

He added that academics and civil activists, including those who had received funding from the United Nations, had been branded as “urban naxals” and put behind bars.

“The UAPA, 1967, has provisions; after 2014, have you declared people who committed communal activities as terrorists? You will designate only those who are against you as terrorists, students in JNU, Dalits. We have lost two Prime Ministers and a chief minister to terrorism, we know the pain but we never misused the law. We will stand here and oppose, you can send ED or CBI after us for all you want,” Mr. Sibal said.

Sukhendu Sekhar Ray of the TMC asserted that people fighting for tribal rights, environment protection would be branded as terrorists through this law.

“You will brand anyone as tukde tukde gang, urban naxal and send them to jail for six months. The [Home Ministry] committee that will decide the designation of individual terrorists will be a drawing room committee of the government. UAPA has become redundant; in 75% cases people have been either acquitted or released. Last week Abdul Ghani Goni [a Kashmiri trader] was acquitted after 23 years. The word terrorist will be stamped on your forehead as a tilak and then the person will be vulnerable to mob lynching,” Mr. Ray argued.

Intervening, Minister of State for Home G. Kishan Reddy said the the government wanted to use the law to designate individuals like Masood Azhar, Hafiz Saeed and Dawood Ibrahim as terrorists. “The Prime Minister went to international countries to seek support to designate these individuals as terrorists. I want to ask the Congress party, in your time how many outfits were declared as terrorist organisations? As many as 34. The individual designations will be made under the law you made in 1967,” Mr. Reddy asserted, inviting vociferous protests from the Congress.

MDMK’s Vaiko said he had been a victim of the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) brought by the BJP government in 2002, and spent 19 months in jail.

“I have been branded as traitor for my support to the LTTE and Eelam movement… Centre is acting unilaterally, it is empowering itself,” the MP from Tamil Nadu said. “The Bill is highly undemocratic and unconstitutional… It usurps the powers of State Government… I request the House to reject the Bill lock, stock and barrel, else it will be thrown in the dustbin by the people of this country,” he asserted.

Home Minister Amit Shah will reply after the discussion concludes on Friday. The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on July 24th.

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