Draconian And Anti-Democratic Amendments To Laws

THE Modi 2.0 regime is unleashing a slew of draconian “anti-terror” legislations. Home Minister Amit Shah is branding anyone who questions these as “anti-nationals” who seek to “appease” Muslims who are of course, profiled as terrorists. The same Amit Shah also says that the Samjhauta blast accused were falsely framed as terrorists because they were Hindu.

Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill

This Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha, expedites the process of appointment of chairperson and members of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). It allows for all former Supreme Court judges, and not just former Chief Justices of India, to be appointed to the chairperson’s post of the NHRC. It proposed the appointment of three instead of two human rights experts, including one woman, to the commission, as well as that of chairpersons of commissions such as the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, and National Commission for Women as members of the NHRC.

The debate on this Bill was marked by an open display of contempt for human rights and the Constitution by the BJP leaders and Ministers.  

BJP MP Satypal Singh (former Police Commissioner of Mumbai and also former Minister for State for HRD), said that Indian culture always respected human beings, and that human rights was a foreign, Western concept. He claimed that the writers of the Constitution were inspired by the American Constitution when it came to fundamental rights.

Satyapal Singh added that his government was committed to protecting human rights of the “right people” and not those of the “terrorists and rapists”. In his reply in the House, Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai echoed this sentiment, saying, “We are a government that stands for the human rights of victims not of terrorists and perpetrators of sexual crime.” Such statements reek of utter ignorance about the very principles of human rights. The first principle is that those accused of, or even convicted of crimes do, in fact, have inalienable rights which every democratic country must uphold.

Moreover, it is ironic that a Government that is openly saying in Parliament that “terrorists” do not have rights, also has, in the same Lok Sabha, a terror-accused BJP MP Pragya Thakur. In Ms Thakur’s case, the BJP claims (without any evidence) that her human rights were violated and she was subjected to torture! So, when the BJP declares that human rights must not extend to terror-accused persons, it excludes Sanghi terror-accused persons from this ambit.

Amendments To UAPA and NIA Acts

We need to look closely at the changes being introduced by the Modi Government to the already draconian laws like the UAPA. An amendment to the UAPA passed by the Lok Sabha, allows the NIA to designate an individual suspected to have terror links as a “terrorist”. Before this Bill becomes law, only organisations are designated as ‘terrorist organisations’. The existing law already has sufficient provisions for the law to prosecute and punish ‘lone wolf terrorists’ for acts of terror. This amendment is intended at enhancing the draconian UAPA which is already being deployed against individuals who are human rights defenders - such as Sudha Bharadwaj and others.

It is shameful that barring six MPs (Hasnain Masoodi of National Conference, K Subbarayan of CPI, PR Natarajan and Abdul Majeed Ariff of CPIM, and Syed Imtiaz Jaleel and Asaduddin Owaisi of AIMIM) the entire Lok Sabha Opposition capitulated and voted for such a draconian amendment.   

DNA Profiling Bill: Loss Of Privacy

The Cabinet has cleared a DNA Profiling Bill, which was passed in the Lok Sabha in January 2019 but lapsed due to lack of support in the Rajya Sabha. The new draft legislation seeks to establish a National DNA Data Bank and Regional DNA Data Banks. The Bill also envisages that every data bank will maintain indices like the crime scene index, suspects’ or under trials’ index, offenders’ index, missing persons’ index and the unknown deceased persons’ index. The legislation also seeks to establish a DNA Regulatory Board. Every laboratory that analyses DNA samples to establish the identity of an individual, has to be accredited by the board.

Under the Bill, written consent by individuals is required to collect DNA samples from them; but, the consent is not required for offences with the punishment of more than seven years of imprisonment or death! This would be a clear violation of the privacy and bodily integrity of Indian citizens. Over and over, the Modi regime is treating those accused of certain crimes as already guilty and undeserving of human rights.

Undermining The RTI Act  

The proposed Amendments to the RTI Act that were introduced in the Lok Sabha seek to irrevocably dilute and distort the very spirit of Right To Information. We quote at length from a statement by the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI):

“It is a matter of grave concern that the amendments to the RTI Law were introduced in complete secrecy and in flagrant violation of the Pre-Legislative Consultation Policy of the Central government which mandates public disclosure and consultation on draft legislations. Owing to the undemocratic way of its introduction, the contents of the draft amendments were not known by MPs, citizens and the media till the bill was circulated to members of the Lok Sabha on the eve of its introduction.

The bill seeks to amend the RTI Act in order to empower the Central Government to unilaterally decide the tenure, salary, allowances and other terms of service of Information Commissioners at the Centre and States. The NDA Government has done so by wilfully misrepresenting an amendment to a basic feature of the law, as a function of rule-making.

As the RTI Act stands today, it provides for a fixed tenure of 5 years for information commissioners (subject to the age limit of 65 years). Further, the salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the Chief of the Central Information Commission are the same as that of the Chief Election Commissioner. This is a part of the basic structure of the existing law and therefore any amendment to these provisions undermines the basic structure of the RTI.

The status of information commissioners was extensively discussed during the formulation of the law, including in the Standing Committee. In fact, the Standing Committee opined, “Information  Commission  is  an  important  creation  under  the  Act  which  will  execute  the laudable  scheme  of  the  legislation  …It  should,  therefore,  be  ensured  that  it  functions  with utmost  independence  and  autonomy.”

It recommended  that  to  achieve  this  objective,  it would be desirable to confer on the central chief  information  commissioner  and  information commissioners,  status of the chief election commissioner  and  election  commissioners respectively. The committee’s recommendation to  elevate  the  status  of  information commissioners was accepted and passed by  parliament unanimously through an extensive process of public and Parliamentary consultation.

The principle of according a high stature, and protecting the terms of service by equating it to functionaries of constitutional bodies, is routinely adopted for independent statutory oversight bodies, including the Central Vigilance Commission and the Lokpal.  

Enabling the Executive to govern the functioning of the Commissions will fundamentally weaken the institution of the Information Commissions as it will adversely impact their ability to function in an independent manner. The Information Commissions are the final authorities to adjudicate on claims of access to information which is a deemed fundamental right under the Constitution. The RTI Act confers an autonomous status to Commissions to empower them to carry out their functions independently so as to enforce compliance of the highest offices with the provisions of the law. Further, the Central government usurping for itself the power to decide even the tenure, salaries and allowances of information commissioners of the State Information Commissions, raises key issues of federalism, and is a continuing indication of the current Government’s centralised, and undemocratic decision making.”

The statement added:

“There is a wide array of pressing issues which require the urgent attention of government to ensure the effective implementation of the RTI Act and to promote higher standards of transparency in public life. These include:

  • Making time bound and transparent appointments to fill vacancies in information commissions
  • Addressing the issue of attacks on information seekers- more than 80 RTI users have been murdered across the country.
  • Implementing the Whistle Blowers Protection Act
  • Addressing poor implementation of Section 4 of the RTI Act to strengthen mandatory pro-active disclosure, the lack of which was acutely felt in some of this Government’s most wide sweeping policies such as demonetisation.
  • Addressing the complete lack of transparency in electoral funding.

It is inexplicable that instead  of  addressing some of these issues that are currently undermining peoples’ right to information, the NDA Government has decided to focus on means to subvert the independence and autonomy of the adjudicating authorities under the RTI Act. This latest legislative sleight is another example of this government’s characteristic intention to disempower democratic institutions of this country.”