THE Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill passed by Parliament, allowing the Central Government to designate an individual as a terrorist and seize his property, is likely to generate a controversy because of the powers it confers on the National Investigation Agency (NIA). The Bill has been justified on the ground that even after banning an outfit, a terrorist can float another group and continue with his activities and that countries like the US, China and Israel have similar laws.
Predictably, as such laws do, it will lead to apprehensions over the rights of an individual and civil liberties. If the government believes an individual is involved in terrorism, he can be declared a terrorist sans an FIR, charge sheet or trial in a court. Usually, an individual is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but here the onus will be on the person to prove he is not involved in terror activities. The NIA is believed to have asked for the amendments because such cases have inter-state and trans-national implications. But investigative agencies in India already have questions to answer. The CBI, like in the Aarushi case, was accused of first zeroing in on individuals and then finding evidence to nail them. AFSPA, too, is open to the allegation of misuse despite the need for it in areas affected by insurgency. The UAPA Bill is reminiscent of MISA during the time of Indira Gandhi, giving sweeping powers to the law-enforcement agencies, including preventive detention and seizure of property.
We live in a neighbourhood where the danger of terrorism lurks, the Mumbai terror attacks that led to the creation of NIA are its most potent reminder. Designating individuals will help notify the names of suspects, but the test will lie in separating the wheat from the chaff. The NIA has asked for an in-camera trial in the Malegaon case to ensure communal harmony and the security of witnesses. As charges of vendetta against individuals and communities may crop up, lending the law to greater scrutiny will mean more responsibility and also more accountability.