Thanks to robust resistance offered by members of the Upper House, Parliament has bought itself more time to debate the wisdom of adding more draconian provisions to the already twice-amended Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). The government pushed through the latest set of amendments in the Lok Sabha overriding objections and demands for greater scrutiny of the Bill, especially in the light of India’s previous experience with anti-terrorism laws. From the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act through the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) to the various incarnates of UAPA, the lesson for us has been that such laws do not necessarily deter terror crimes but do lend themselves to gross misuse. POTA was enacted in the aftermath of the December 2001 attack on Parliament despite shameful instances of human rights violations recorded during the pendency of TADA, which in fact led to its repeal. POTA’s definition of what constituted a ‘terrorist act’ was too broad, criminalising even political activism. The law permitted prolonged detentions without charge and reversed the presumption of innocence which is the bedrock of the criminal justice system. In line with the UPA’s Common Minimum Programme, which vowed to banish terror-specific laws, the Manmohan Singh government repealed POTA. But in an unexpected act of betrayal, it also reintroduced some of POTA’s stringent provisions in an altered version of UAPA, amending the law a second time in the wake of the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
The government’s justification for the new amendments is that it is obliged to strengthen UAPA by its membership of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body responsible for setting global standards against money laundering and terror financing. However, some of the provisions of the intended law run counter to the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. The proposed amendment to Section 2 of UAPA criminalises the right to form associations by expanding the definition of person to include “an association of persons or body of individuals, whether incorporated or not”. The Standing Committee examining the Bill had opposed this clause on the grounds that “it gives leverage to the investigating officer and could lead to harassment.” The Bill criminalises the raising of funds “from legitimate or illegitimate source” and unnecessarily replicates crimes already covered under the IPC such as the “production and distribution” of “high quality counterfeit currency.” As they debate and vote on the Bill on Thursday, Rajya Sabha MPs must ask themselves if UAPA-2012 is not POTA by another name.