India in recent weeks has been a little abuzz with the amendments in a countable number of bills related to terrorism, crimes, and penalties. These much-awaited amendments are feared to be a great miscalculation by the Government. All the amendments have faced mixed reactions by the parties and the oppositions. Meanwhile, few of them are yet to be passed by the Rajya Sabha.
POCSO AMENDMENT 2019
On July 24, the Rajya Sabha passed the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Amendment Bill 2019 which seeks to provide more stringent punishment including death penalties to offenders of child sexual abusers. Moreover, the definition of Sexual Assault has been extended to incorporate hormones or chemical substances into children to attain early sexual maturity for the purpose of further sexual assault. “Punishment now goes from 20 years to entire life, or death, as deemed fit by the court” Smriti Irani introduced the death penalty for child sexual abusers.
— Ministry of WCD (@MinistryWCD) July 25, 2019
Now the propositions are largely feared among various NGOs and child rights activists. There are various slacks to capital punishment which include the murder of the victims in order to weed out the slightest of evidence and to avoid the principal testimony. Anuja Gupta, the founder of RAHI Foundation said that the act passed is just as regressive as it could be. Majorly cases happen in the family itself, and children now won’t be able to report even if there was a little chance of the same and therefore it undermines the very motive of the amendment.
Pinky Anand, the Additional Solicitor General of India believes that this has come across as a criminal method to deal with other criminals. We need to ensure that the punishment is prohibitive and a deterrent so that it instills a fear in the minds of people who might want to do the crime.
Earlier when children were not able to disclose their experiences, now the act is asking them to report under POCSO wherein the perpetrator will either be sent for 20 years or for a lifetime. The police need to take action first by setting up children-friendly departments in the police station.
THE NATIONAL INVESTIGATION AGENCY AMENDMENT BILL 2019
On July 15, the Lok Sabha passed the National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill 2019 after a heated debate in the house. The NIA was set up in 2008 in the wake of the Mumbai terror attack that had claimed 166 lives. There are three major amendments to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act.
- The latest amendment will enable the NIA to additionally investigate offenses related to human trafficking, counterfeit currency, manufacture or sale of prohibited arms, cyber-terrorism, and offenses under the Explosive Substances Act, 1908.
- In the existing Act, for the offenses under the purview of NIA, the officers have the same power as that of police officers and these validate across the country. The amendment gives NIA officers the power to investigate offenses committed outside India. NIA’s jurisdiction will be subject to international treaties and domestic laws of other countries.
- The existing Act allows the Centre to constitute special courts for NIA’s trials. But the Bill enables the Central government to designate sessions courts as special courts for such trials.
The NIA has been accused of targeting minorities, especially Muslim youth, in addition to infringing upon the rights of the police in states. While parties including the Congress, DMK, CPI(M) and AIMIM laid out their arguments against the Bill, only six MPs – including AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, Left MPs and an MP belonging to the National Conference – voted against the amendments on July 15 in the Lok Sabha.
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A great injustice, gross miscarriage of Justice!When will this stop!When will Indians get Justice @PMOIndia @narendramodi @rsprasad @arunjaitley https://t.co/oGCqSx2czi
— Mohandas Pai (@TVMohandasPai) July 26, 2019
With regard to the amendments, the opposition brought in three main questions:
- Should session courts be turned into special courts for NIA investigations?
- Should the government be pushing for widening the ambit of the NIA when there are doubts in people’s minds about the objectivity of the organisation?
- Without defining the meaning of ‘terrorist’, should these amendments be brought in?
MOTOR VEHICLES AMENDMENT BILL 2019
The Lok Sabha passed the Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill 2019 on 22nd July which seeks to transform the Indian roads with adequate safety measures to reduce road accidents, imposing penalties for violations and weeding out corruption. The original bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in 2017 but failed to get the approval of the Rajya Sabha. Road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari has proposed the following changes:
- The Centre will develop a system for cashless treatment of road accident victims in the so-called golden hour—the period up to an hour after a traumatic injury, during which there is the highest likelihood of preventing death by providing medical care.
- The bill proposes a fine of as much as ₹10,000 for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, up from the existing ₹2,000. Besides, the Centre will have the power to increase the penalty by 10% every year. There will be strict provisions and suspension of license for dangerous driving and driving without seat-belts.
- The Centre can tell an automobile manufacturer to recall motor vehicles in case of defects that cause damage to the environment.
As much as 30% of driving licenses are bogus and the provisions in the proposed bill will minimize the possibilities of fake licenses. A window of one year, instead of a month, will be given to applying for license renewals.
THE UNLAWFUL ACTIVITIES PREVENTION AMENDMENT BILL 2019
Lok Sabha last week passed the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill 2019, in a move that gives a big push to India’s internal security machinery. The UAPA Bill was introduced in the Lower House by Union home minister Amit Shah on 8 July. The Bill amends the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, providing special procedures to deal with terrorist activities and individuals and groups that foster terrorism in India.
As per section 35 of the UAPA, the Government can notify any organization or individual as a terrorist organization ‘if it believes that the organization is involved in terrorism. The parent act already has sufficient provisions to deal with individuals linked with terrorist organizations, it is surprising to note that the amendment does not provide any legal consequences in case an individual is designated a terrorist. Without following the formal judicial process, a person can be unilaterally labeled terrorist by the Government and can be handed over to the mob to suffer extrajudicial punishments, without any effective legal remedies.
Home Minister Amit Shah while introducing the amendment in the court said “And then there are those who attempt to plant terrorist literature and terrorist theory in the minds of the young. Guns do not give rise to a terrorist. The root of terrorism is the propaganda that is done to spread it, the frenzy that is spread.” During the debate, there were members who said that this rule and amendment can be misused against human rights activists and social workers. In response to this, Amit Shah said: “those who work for Urban Maoists will not be spared.”
It is scary to see unofficial terms like Urban Maoists are used in the court and terms which are supposed to be used on social media only is being replicated in the Parliament. There have been cases in the past where people were not arrested merely due to being a part of an unlawful organization or carrying and consuming Maoist literature.
With the Bill being put to vote in the Lower House, 287 members voted for the bill while eight members dissented, with Congress Members of Parliament (MPs) walking out of the Lok Sabha, demanding that the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act Bill be sent to a Standing Committee for review.
We hope that the proposed amendments in the bills be fulfilled but with appropriate actions and by concentrating on all the sides that will be affected due to the amendments. The government needs to take stringent actions and steps against the crimes and penalties in the country.