Recently, the Union Home Minister, Amit Shah had introduced the Unlawful Activities (Prevention ) Amendment Bill, 2019. The Bill seeks to amend the Unlawful Activities (Prevention ) Act, 1967. The Act provides special procedures to deal with terrorist activities. Under the Act, the Central Government may designate an organization as a terrorist organization 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 same grounds.
The Central Government will be having the power to declare an individual as ‘terrorist’ if the Unlawful Activities (Prevention ) Amendment Bill, 2019 is passed. This is potentially dangerous because it will empower officials of Union Ministry to brand any person as a terrorist without following due process. The name of such person will be listed in the ‘Fourth Schedule proposed to be added in the parent Act. The only remedy available to the person is to make an application to the Central Government, which will again be reviewed by a committee formed by the Government itself.
Since the already existing Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 has ample provisions to deal with individuals who support terrorist organizations and unlawful activities, one would wonder what is real purpose of the amendment.
As per section 35 of the UAPA, the Government can notify any organization as terrorist organization “if it believes that the organization is involved in terrorism.” Such organizations can be included in ‘First Schedule’ of the Act, which so far has 33 names. Any individual who is associated with any organization of the first schedule as a member, supporter or fund raiser, can be punished as per the existing provisions of sections 38, 39 and 40 of the existing UAPA.
As the parent act already has so many sections dealing with the thing, what is the need of amending it to the extent of designating an individual as a terrorist? What is bizarre is that the amendment does not lay down any legal consequences in case a person is designated as a terrorist under Fourth Schedule. If a law determines a crime but does not lay down punishment for the same then, it is incomplete and truncated a law. It simply gives power to the government to officially design a person as a terrorist. An official designation will be akin to civil death with social boycott, expulsion from job, hounding by media and perhaps attack from the self-proclaimed vigilante groups. Such an individual will be left to live with a cursed label on his forehead like the Biblical character, Cain. In short, the Government can declare anybody as a terrorist without following any judicial procedure and throw him to mob to suffer extra judicial punishment. This gets more chilling when one hears the explanation of the Home Minister regarding the amendment in the Lok Sabha. He says:
“…..there are those who attempt to plant terrorist literature and terrorist theory in the minds of the young. Guns do not give rise to terrorist. The root of terrorism is the propaganda that is done to spread it, the frenzy that is spread.”
The terms terrorist propaganda, terrorist literature etc. are vague terms having a potential of being misused by the authority. When a law is based on such loose concepts, officials may find it convenient to slap it against anybody. There are instances of slapping UAPA against people for merely possessing revolutionary literature (the case of Anand Teltumbde). Many human rights activists, writers and journalists may run the risk of being branded as terrorists.
To label a person as ‘terrorists merely on the basis of speech and thought goes against the judicial prudence that speech can be punished only if it gives rise to direct and imminent violence. This has been settled by the Honorable Supreme Court in a number of Court cases. In State of Kerala vs Raneef, the Supreme Court observed that one cannot be penalized for merely belonging to an unlawful organization if there is no active participation. The prosecution in this case had argued that the accused was in possession of literature of ‘jihad.’ Recently, a division bench of High Court of Kerala upheld the compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs ordered by a single bench to a man who was illegally arrested on grounds of possessing Maoist Literature. While granting bail to human rights activist Dr. Binayak Sen in a UAPA case, the Supreme Court observed that mere possession of Maoist Literature will not make an individual a criminal or a terrorist.
During the Lok sabha debate, NCP MP Supriya Sule cautioned that the amendment could be used to target the human rights activists and social workers, and mentioned the UAPA case against famous academician and activist Anand Teltumbde.
In response to the concerns raised by Sule, Union Minister Amit Shah retorted,” those who work for Urban Maoists will not be spared.”
The loose term ‘Urban Maoist,’which so far has its usage in popular media, now enters into the parliamentary records, with the Home Minister invoking it. Terms like that are used without nuance and discretion to demonize and vilify ideological opponents and critics of the ruling dispensation. It is worrying to see such terms getting used to justify an amendment which can have grave affect on civil liberties of an individual.