The UAPA Amendment Bill 2019 was passed by the Lok Sabha, significantly tightening anti terror laws, and raising concerns of misuse.
The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act was enacted in 1967, to curb activities that threaten the integrity and the sovereignty of the country. Since its enactment, it has already undergone several amendments; in 2004, 2008 and 2013.
The UAPA Amendment Bill 2019 was passed by the Lok Sabha on 24 July 2019. The bill, which was suggested by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, was introduced with the objective of expediting the investigation and prosecution of terror related offences, and bringing anti-terror laws in line with international standards.
The amendment has introduced many changes.
Firstly, it expanded the definition of what it is to be a terrorist. Formerly, only groups associated with terrorist activities could be designated as terrorist organizations. Now, even individuals can be designated as terrorist if they are suspected to have terror links.
Secondly, it also expanded the scope of terrorist activities. According to the act, terrorist acts are those which fall under any of the 9 treaties of Schedule 4 of the Act. The amendment introduced an additional treaty into the schedule, namely the International Convention for Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005).
Thirdly, it lowered rank requirements of officers for conducting investigations. Initially, only officers of the ranks Deputy Superintendent or Assistant Commissioner of Police or above could investigate cases related to terrorism. Now officers of the rank Inspector are also given the authority to conduct these investigations.
Finally, it introduced procedural changes for the seizure of property. Initially, prior approval from the Director General of Police is required for seizure of property associated with terrorism. As per the amendment, officers need to seek approval from the Director General of NIA before the seizure of property, and can do so without permission from the state police.
There have been several concerns raised with respect to the amendment. Empowering the NIA to conduct investigation in any state without having to seek permission from the state police was said to be contravening the Federal Structure of the country. The law would also have greater potential for misuse, as it practically empowers the government to label any person as a terrorist without following due process, and may be used as a political tool to stifle any opposition to the government in power.