One pertaining to the content and intent of the Bills and the other about the passage of Bills without what they have called adequate scrutiny.
Seventeen parties in Parliament have written to the Vice-President and chairman of Rajya Sabha protesting against the unholy haste in passing Bills in the House. In normal course if Parliament transacts business it should be a cause of celebration. But the Opposition parties have a reason to worry.
Parliament has passed Bills as if there is no tomorrow. Close on the heels of passing the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) Amendment Bill, the House passed the RTI Amendment Bill. Even before the Speaker could take a deep breath, the House briefly considered the Triple Talak Bill and passed it. Another Bill that made headlines only in the pink papers was the Companies Amendment Bill seeking to tweak the CSR rules.
The Opposition has raised two sets of concerns. One pertaining to the content and intent of the Bills and the other about the passage of Bills without what they have called adequate scrutiny.
The Opposition’s reservations on this count appear to be ill- founded and untenable as these Bills are not new and have been in the public domain since last Parliament. Though the term of Parliament ends, the intent with which the Bills were brought up does not change.
As far as the first two concerns, home minister Amit Shah put up a strong defence and amidst protests in Parliament, the UAPA was amended to make the provisions strict and bring more people and activities under its ambit. The Opposition has called it a draconian amendment but a quick review of the nature of terror attacks and the techniques used will reveal the changing nature of these dastardly incidents. There have been increasing incidents of the infamous ‘lone wolf’ attacks as against organised terror attacks by a group of people. These are terror attacks by individuals motivated by radical ideology or extremist views. We are as much victims of such attacks as any other country in the world.
Little wonder that the Bill was passed with as many as 287 members supporting it and only 8 members opposing.
Similarly, other Bills too were in the public domain since last Parliament and the parties opposed to these Bills then have done so this time too practically for the same reasons. Even in the last Parliament session the then government had made it clear that it is serious about ending the abhorrent custom of triple talaq.
The ruling party members and their supporters have adequately answered these objections and invalidated the apprehensions.
It would therefore be far from truth to project the passing of these amendments merely as a tug of war between a feeble Opposition and a muscular ruling party as these 17 parties have made it appear.
The Opposition also questioned the rationale of the amendment without doing any homework. Set up in 1961 by the first Prime Minister of India, it was the National Integration Council that unanimously recommended the enacting of a strong law aimed at effectively preventing such activities considered unlawful and detrimental to the unity, integrity and sovereignty of the country. But at that time terrorism was not an issue as it is today. The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (the Constitution (Sixteenth Amendment) Act, 1963 which was passed by both Houses of Parliament in 1967, all during the Congress reign under Indira Gandhi, imposed heavy restrictions on freedom of speech and expression, right to assembly and even the fundamental right to form associations or unions. Strangely, the then Opposition did protest but was unable to prevent the passage of the Bill which was considered an attack on democratic rights.
The home minister rightly pointed out this fact to the protesting Congress members and reminded them that it was their own towering leader who first brought this ‘draconian’ law.
The Congress should realise that it has equal responsibility towards national integration and the fight against terrorism as as the ruling party. Picking up a fight against the BJP on trivial issues will take the party to further defeat and oblivion. The home minister’s resolve that ‘the only purpose of this law is to root out terrorism’, should have ideally been welcomed by Opposition.
The only issues where the government needs to heed to the Opposition are matters concerning the misuse of the amended provisions and speedy judicial decisions. The amended law does vest unrestricted powers with the police and other law enforcing agencies. Many times these agencies not only lack coordination but may even end up working at cross purposes. The dangers of turf rivalry should not be allowed to influence the decisions of the government in the pursuit of maintaining law and order.
Corruption in some of the arms of executive and a section of the judiciary is not unknown to the government or the political parties that run the administration. Often times, one or two corrupt individuals can bring disrepute to the entire organisation or the government itself.
The home minister needs to assure the nation that strictest possible action will be taken to root out terrorism and terror modules either organised or individual oriented but at the same time no provision of the amended UAPA Bill will ever be allowed to be misused either by those working under him or for that any other ministry.
The ruling party is perfectly well within its rights to pass Bills within the stipulated time and following the legislative procedures laid down by the Constitution. But all said and done, that is as per the letter of the Constitution. A debate would have prolonged the issue but still the Bills would have got passed as the numbers are in government’s favour.
The spirit of the Constitution would expect the government to work towards a broad consensus on issues of national, security and strategic importance.
Such a step would in no way belittle the ruling party; rather it will enhance the prestige and stature of the Prime Minister who assured the nation of “sabka saath, sabka vikas” and the Opposition in particular that fewer numbers should not deter them from their duty of questioning the government.