It looks like India is becoming a police state. With the passage of three amendments to existing laws the central government is impinging upon the powers delegated to the states, becoming opaque and transgressing upon the rights of individuals.
The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act amendment bill which was passed by the Lok Sabha gives the government the power to designate an individual as a terrorist. The bill is certain to be passed by the Rajya Sabha too. Until now, this Act allowed the government to declare organistions as ‘terrorist’. Now with the amendments, the government can declare individuals as terrorists. This new amendment does away with due process. Until now, only through a court of law court of can declare a person as committing a terrorist act. Now, the government can declare anybody to be a terrorist, seize the property of the individual.
Contrary to the established principle of law that an accused is ‘innocent until proven otherwise’, the amended UAPA puts the onus of proving their innocence on the individual/organisation.
The Section 38(1) of the Bill reads: “A person, who associates himself, or professes to be associated, with a terrorist organisation with intention to further its activities, commits an offence relating to membership of a terrorist organisation:
“Provided that this sub-section shall not apply where the person charged is able to prove that he has not taken part in the activities of the organisation at any time during its inclusion in the Schedule as a terrorist organisation.”
Clause 35 (3)(d) of the Act gives the central government undefined powers to categorise an organisation or an individual as a ‘terrorist’.
The Clause reads: “Under the Act, the central government may designate an organisation as a terrorist organisation if it: (i) commits or participates in acts of terrorism, (ii) prepares for terrorism, (iii) promotes terrorism, or (iv) is otherwise involved in terrorism. The Bill additionally empowers the government to designate individuals as terrorists on the same grounds.
The Director General of National Investigation Agency (NIA) empowered to approve seizure of the property of the accused.
According to the Bill, the designation is to be notified by the government in the official gazette and the onus will be on the individual to seek a review to satisfy the government that the individual is not a terrorist. The law does not require any other offences to be filed against the individual to declare him/her a terrorist. The law also does not specify any process for the designation.
To be denotifed from the gazette as a terrorist, an individual can make an application to the central government. If the application is rejected, the person can seek a review by a special committee set up by the government.
The law, however, does not prescribe a time limit for the government to set up such a committee or a process for the committee to decide the application.
“The government is taking over judicial function. I can only be called a terrorist after a court convicts me. It cannot be done on the mere feelings of the government or suspicion,” AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi has said in Lok Sabha.
The amended UAPA will also empower officers of rank of NIA inspector to investigate terror crimes. This was originally reserved for officers of rank of deputy superintendent of police or equivalent.
Home minister Amit Shah said in the Lok Sabha, “A person can be declared a terrorist when they take part in terror activities, or provide funds, or harbour a terror theory and then spreads it among youth. Terrorism is not just fostered by the gun. Terrorism is also the spread of hate and radicalism. And the House should not object to this definition.”
He further said, “under the garb of ‘social activism’ and ‘ideological movement’, Maoism — especially ‘urban Naxalism’ and violence against common man, villagers and tribals under its pretext — won’t be tolerated at any cost.”
Responding to Nationalist Congress Party MP Supriya Sule, who said that many social activists were being arrested under the UAPA, Shah said that those involved in ‘urban Maoism’ won’t be spared.
“There are crores of people who are working as social activists or workers…they are never being targeted (by the police). But there are a few who work for the urban Maoists and these people won’t be spared,” asserted Shah.
With the recent amendment to the NIA Act, the Central government gets the authority to have the National Investigation Agency (NIA) take over the investigation of crimes, which involve allegations of human trafficking, offences under the Explosives Act, and certain offences under the Arms Act. This is clear violation of federal structure of India, where Law and Order is a state subject. The the snooping eyes of the centre will be on every crime happening in a state and take over the investigation.
With the passing of the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 the progressive bill is almost dead. The bill will grant greater powers to the Centre in deciding the terms of the chief information commissioners (CICs) and information commissioners (ICs) at both the central and state levels.
Seven former Information Commissioners of the Central Information Commission termed proposed amendments as a direct attack on peoples’ fundamental right to information. Wajahat Habibullah, Deepak Sandhu (both former chief information commissioners), Shailesh Gandhi, Sridhar Acharyulu, MM Ansari, Yashovardhan Azad and Annapurna Dixit (former information commissioners) termed the amendment as a direct attack on the autonomy of information commissions and people’s fundamental right to know.
Yashovardhan Azad former CIC said that the RTI Act has been functioning for the past 14 years without any problem regarding the tenure and status of information commissioners. He said the amendment bill was a clear attempt by the government to control the tenure and salary of information commissioners and the government seeking these powers would most probably lead to a downgrade.
He said if the amendments pass and the government has powers to fix salary and tenure of commissioners through rules, a situation could arise where different commissioners will have different tenures and salaries.
He underlined that most of the lakhs of RTI applications filed every year are filed by the common citizens and the marginalised sections of society in a bid to secure their rights and entitlements from the government. In most cases decided by the commission, the respondent is the government and therefore, in order to ensure that commissions can function independently, he said their autonomy must be protected.
Another former CIC Sridhar Acharyulu said that the RTI Amendment Bill was not just an attack on the RTI Act but also on the Constitutional right to freedom of speech as the RTI emanates from there. He highlighted that the Supreme Court has repeatedly said that the right to information is a fundamental right and that is what empowered the central government to even legislate the RTI Act which was even applicable to states.
Terming the reasons given by the government for the amendment bill as illogical logic, he said commissions could survive only because their tenure and salary were protected by law. He further highlighted that in the amendments the government was not specifying what status commissioners would be given. Underlining the importance of a high status he said that was crucial to enable commissioners to give directions to even the cabinet secretary or principal secretary.
Modi 2.0 is taking India to the dark ages with each passing day.