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Amit Shah to table UAPA Amendment Bill in Rajya Sabha today: Why more police powers with Centre may be bad idea

India in recent weeks has been abuzz with some legal changes that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has been pursuing with respect to the national security framework. One of these changes is via The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019 (UAPA Bill) which was passed in the Lok Sabha last week. The UAPA Bill aims to amend the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAP Act). This Act is a detailed Central legislation that seeks to provide rules and procedures to deal with terrorist and other unlawful activities that affect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of India. The UAPA Bill essentially proposes to make four changes to the existing UAP Act:

  1. It allows the Central government, subject to certain procedural requirements and conditions, to designate an individual as a terrorist. As per the existing UAP Act, the Central government can only designate organisations, and not individuals, as terrorists.
  2. It empowers the Director General of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to grant approval of seizure or attachment of property associated with terrorism when the said agency investigates the case. The existing UAP Act requires the Central government to obtain prior approval from the highest police officer in a state (ie, The Director General of Police) before seizing or attaching any property associated with terrorism.
  3. It allows officers of the NIA, of the rank of Inspector or above, to investigate cases under the UAP Act. As per the existing UAP Act, only officers of the rank of Deputy Superintendent or Assistant Commissioner of Police or above are allowed to investigate cases.
  4. It broadens the scope of what constitutes a terrorist act. Among other things, the existing UAP Act defines terrorist acts to include acts committed within the scope of certain treaties listed in the schedule to the Act. The UAPA Bill has added another treaty, namely the International Convention for Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005) to the schedule to the UAP Act.

The Opposition and the NDA’s critics have been contesting these changes on the grounds that the government can misuse the proposed changes against people critical of it. Even before going into the merits of the changes, I think that is not a very sound argument. Any law can be misused. The potential of a law being misused is not a good enough reason to not pass a law. If the government wants to make life miserable for someone, the tax code is enough to do it (and a more subtle way to do it). It does not need laws such as the UAP Act. On the other hand, the government and its bandwagon are going on about how these amendments are imperative for India’s national security. Based on the changes the amendment is proposing, I do not think that is true.

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