Anti-terror laws & victimization of innocents

The Indian State would soon be armed with a very lethal weapon to deal with terrorists and terror activities for the Rajya Sabha today passed the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019 that seeks to amend the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. Even as the opposition parties raised a motion to send the Bill to the Parliament’s Select Committee, the Upper House rejected the motion by 104 votes against it as compared to 85 in its favour. Subsequently, the amendment Bill was passed with 147 votes in its favour and 42 against it. The way the motion to send the Bill to Select Committee was rejected and the manner the Bill was passed with a very lop-sided margin of votes reflect an unmistakable ascension of the saffron brigade in the Upper House. BJP and its allies are already enjoying a very commanding position in the Lok Sabha. Given the sheer magnitude of people’s mandate being enjoyed by BJP and its allies, particularly after the Lok Sabha Election 2019, NDA has all the power and number to enact any legislation or amend an existing one. The political situation is such that opposition parties have either gone haywire or have been completely decimated. The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019 will soon become a very powerful Act. One pertinent question arises here. Has the Government taken care of all the areas and threads where the Act can be misused against its own innocent citizens? If what happened with POTA and TADA in the past are any indication, there is no guarantee that the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act will not be misused. All anti-terrorism laws can be fatal if there are not enough safeguards.
There is no denying of the fact that India is one of the countries which have been worst affected by terrorism. Terrorism in any form must be dealt with firmly. But the Indian State needs to take utmost care to see that anti-terror laws are not misused and no innocent citizens are victimised and antagonised. But there have been many cases of rampant misuse of the UAPA (unamended). Security forces made several controversial arrests under UAPA. It was under UAPA that Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba and his comrades were arrested on the charge of being naxals. It is also in records how Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) was invoked to arrest Dalit and Adivasi agricultural workers in Uttar Pradesh in 2003 on the charge of being naxalites. Then there is the notorious Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) 1958 which gives sweeping powers to the military. People of other regions of the country may not be very familiar with AFSPA but this very term is entwined with a long history of human rights violation and extrajudicial killing by security forces in the North East particularly Manipur and of course Jammu & Kashmir. If AFSPA is an instrument for fake encounters or extrajudicial killings, UAPA can become a tool for wrongful detention and conviction, if its enforcement is not monitored very stringently. POTA was preceded by the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1985 or TADA.  According to a report, by mid-1994, 76,166 people had been arrested under TADA but less than 4 per cent were actually found guilty. Given such track records, anti-terror laws did not fare very well in the country. People certainly do not want another TADA or POTA. It is of paramount importance that the Union Government ensures the Unlawful Activities Prevention Amendment Act is used strictly against terrorism and terrorist elements, not against innocent citizens. There must be regular monitoring of how the Act is used or misused by law enforcing agencies.