A bill which seeks to ban funding of weapons of mass destruction and also empower the Centre to freeze, seize or attach financial assets and economic resources of people engaged in such activities was passed by Lok Sabha on Wednesday.
Responding to a discussion on the Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Amendment Bill, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said the passage of the amendment will strengthen India's national security and its global position.
The House passed the bill by a voice vote with members expressing unanimity that such a measure was the need of the hour.
The Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act, passed in 2005, only banned manufacture of weapons of mass destruction.
While moving the bill for passage and consideration, Jaishankar said the bill brought keeping in mind the national interest and global interest, and to strengthen India's credentials and image.
"In recent times, regulations relating to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems by international organisations have expanded," Jaishankar said in the statements of objects and reasons of the bill.
He noted that the United Nations Security Council's targeted financial sanctions and the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force have mandated against financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.
"We are upgrading a law which is 17 years old, which like other legislations need updating...FATF needs very specific reference to financing...the bill is meant to be amendment to shortcoming, something which is missing in a current law, it is not meant to be a new law," the minister explained.
He said till now, the government was issuing notifications under the UNSC Act, 1947 which related to financial measures. The notifications were implemented by the Reserve Bank of India and other "involved government bodies".
"They would advice the banks, they would do the monitoring following order which the MEA would regularly bring out. Our effort today is to give legislative backing so that this is not one-by-one ad hoc measure but there is a legal way of dealing with what is a continuous problem," he said.
He said the FATF evaluated whether countries are responsible in terms of their financial policy. "We have seen countries who have done things, followed policies and actions which are not right brought to account. And there are very significant consequences of that.
"I think most members are familiar with the countries involved -- some of them are very close to us," he said apparently referring to Pakistan.
Referring to concerns on whether businesses by mistake will get caught in this situation that they did not know, he said the government has outreach with the industry. "There is a way of communicating this.
There is a long list of individuals and entities who are already sanctioned," he said.
During the course of his reply, Jaishankar responded to queries raised by members on various issues, one of whom referred to Krishna Menon, who was at one point of time part of the India's diplomatic team at the United Nations.
Jaishankar said Menon is known for the record of giving the world's longest speech at the United Nations.
"Yes. I assure you, I can say the same in six minutes. So, my point is that today, we should be less concerned about giving 'gyan' to the world over foreign policy. We should play our role. We should make our contributions. We should look at our national interest," he said.
When an opposition member wondered why the prime minister spoke with the respective presidents of Russia and Ukraine only, the minister said when the conflict is between the two countries, "who else will he speak to? So, he is speaking to the relevant parties. Maybe doing the relevant thing may look irrelevant to other people, I do not know."
The Bill seeks to insert a new Section 12A in the existing law which states that "no person shall finance any activity which is prohibited under this Act, or under the United Nations (Security Council) Act, 1947 or any other relevant Act for the time being in force, or by an order issued under any such Act, in relation to weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems."
It also aims to give the government the powers to "freeze, seize or attach funds or other financial assets or economic resources owned or controlled, wholly or jointly, directly or indirectly, by such person; or held by or on behalf of, or at the direction of, such person; or derived or generated from the funds or other assets owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by such person".
The amendment further proposes to "prohibit any person from making funds, financial assets or economic resources or related services available for the benefit of persons related to any activity which is prohibited under this Act".
During the discussion, MPs across party lines supported the bill.
Bharatiya Janata Party MP Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore said the amendment has been brought by the government to secure the country.
"The use of weapons of mass destruction is unpredictable. They also destroy ecosystem, they can be chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear. And all this can be developed very easily. That is why this amendment has been brought, to stop it from happening," said Rathore.