Anti-terror bills passed after acrimony in Lok Sabha (Intro Roundup)

December 17th, 2008 - 11:14 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata PartyNew Delhi, Dec 17 (IANS) Just three weeks after terrorists from Pakistan slaughtered over 170 Indians and foreigners in Mumbai, the Lok Sabha Wednesday passed two bills to usher in tough anti-terror laws - but only after sparks flew in the house. Opposition and treasury benches traded charges during the day’s proceedings before finally settling down at night to pass unanimously the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Bill and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment (UAPA) Bill.

The two bills are expected to be presented to the Rajya Sabha Thursday.

The bill to amend the UAPA has stringent provisions, including a detention period of 180 days, instead of the present 90 days, and denial of bail altogether to a foreigner accused of acts of terrorism in India.

The amendments also provide for freezing, seizing and attaching funds and other financial assets or economic resources held by individuals or entities engaged in or suspected to be engaged in terrorism.

The NIA is proposed to be set up to probe terrorist attacks, trade in counterfeit currency and other crimes with ramifications across the country.

Earlier in the day, the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) appealed to all political parties to unanimously pass the two bills introduced Tuesday. Home Minister P. Chidambaram told the lower house of parliament: “I appeal to all the members of the house with folded hands to pass the NIA bill.”

“We have tried to accommodate the opinions and suggestions of different political parties and sections such as lawyers and jurists to draft the bills,” he said.

“The nation is watching us to respond to the terror attacks and to create an investigating agency to counter such attacks,” he added.

He said there were enough safeguards in the amendments that the government sought to bring in the bills.

However, in the ensuing debate marked with rancour and parties’ efforts to score political brownie points, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused the ruling coalition of having been “soft on terror” and said only the Nov 26 Mumbai terror attacks spurred it into action.

Attendance in the house was strangely sparse considering the gravity of the debate and the import of the bills the government sought to pass in this short session.

“I cannot express happiness but I express satisfaction today. You have today admitted that the government was wrong for 10 years and will rectify mistakes. You have woken up from Kumbhakarna’s sleep. I want that you admit that you were wrong,” said Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani of the BJP.

“You attacked us (BJP) as if we had committed a crime when we ushered in the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA),” he said, referring to the amendments that the government has proposed in the UAPA which many analysts see as a watered down version of the POTA.

The POTA was enacted by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in March 2002 but was repealed by the UPA government following criticism of its “draconian” provisions and misuse.

While pledging support to the government for the passage of the two crucial bills, Advani sought to convey that the government used different yardsticks to gauge terror.

“The law to fight terrorism is a law against terror. I hope you will not claim that the earlier law was communal while this one is secular. Keep these glasses aside and see (the anti-terror law) independently to combat terror,” exhorted Advani.

From the government side, Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal led the charge, slamming the opposition leader for his comments that the Mumbai terrorist attack had shown India as a weak nation to the world.

“He (Advani) wants to send a message that we cannot protect our people and that India is weak. Politics can be done some other day. I wanted to hear him (Advani) speak not on political things, and accept and pass the bills but he didn’t live up to my expectations.”

Upping the ante further, Sibal asked Advani to apologise to the nation for the 1999 Kandahar hijacking, when the NDA government released three terrorists, and for the 2001 parliament attack by terrorists.

“I want to remind the house about the plane that was taken from Amritsar (Punjab) to Kandahar (Afghanistan),” he said.

Militants had hijacked an Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar and taken all passengers hostage. Acceding to the militants’ demand, then external affairs minister Jaswant Singh escorted three terrorists, released from Indian jails, to the Afghanistan town in exchange for passengers aoard the hijacked plane.

Sibal added: “Maulana Masood Azhar after his release formed Jaish-e-Mohammed, which attacked parliament. So parliament was attacked because you (Advani) released him,” he said referring to the terrorist attack on the parliament complex Dec 13, 2001.

“You (Advani) should apologise to the house as you were the home minister,” Sibal added in a reference to the attack on parliament that India blamed on Pakistan.

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) member Basudeb Acharia wanted both the bills to be referred to the standing committee that would allow leaders to scrutinise the new provisions.

“Initially, we were not in favour of a central investigating agency. But from the kind of terror attacks the country is facing today it is clear that it cannot be handled by state governments. So we support such an agency,” he said.

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