In a big boost to the government, Parliament on Friday approved a crucial amendment to an anti-terror law allowing the Centre to designate individuals as terrorists and seize their properties.
The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill that seeks to amend the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, was passed by Rajya Sabha with 147 votes in favour and 42 against.
The Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party supported the bill.
The House earlier rejected the opposition-sponsored motion to send the amendment to a select committee with 104 votes against as compared to 85 in favour.
The Congress had also voted in favour of this motion.
The Lok Sabha had passed the bill on July 24.
Replying to the debate, Home Minister Amit Shah said the law, that will be used only to tackle terror, will help agencies remain four steps ahead of terrorists.
He accused the Congress of giving colour to the law by linking terrorism to religion for political gains.
He alleged that the Congress misused it to frame people linked to a particular religion, in the context of Samjhauta and Mecca Masjid cases, where the accused have been acquitted by court.
He accused the Congress of misusing laws to target the opposition and cited the example of 'Emergency' in this regard when opposition leaders were put behind bars and restrictions on media were imposed.
This is the third legislation in this session that has cleared the Rajya Sabha hurdle where the ruling party does not have a majority.
Earlier, the government got the RTI Amendment Bill and the Triple Talaq Bill passed in the House after it outstrategised the opposition.
Shah alleged that the Congress said it is important to identify terrorists and not just organisations.
Attacking it, he said the opposition party should not talk about misuse and it should look into its past.
He cited the example of Emergency, when opposition leaders were jailed after the court struck down the election of the then Prime Minister.
"What happened during the Emergency? All the media was banned, all opposition leaders were jailed. There was no democracy for 19 months, and you are accusing us of misusing laws? Kindly look at your own past," he said.
Speaking about the Samjhauta Express blast case, he said those accused during the UPA regime were let go as the court did not find anything against them and the Congress had registered ‘false’ cases against them, keeping elections in mind.
Shah alleged that the accused belonged to a certain religion and people of one religion were targeted during Congress rule.
Responding to opposition concerns over the law being misused, he assured no one's human rights will be violated as a four-stage scrutiny with provision for appeals has been prescribed when individuals are declared terrorists.
Terrorism has no religion, terrorists are against humanity, he said seeking support of all parties to support stringent laws against terrorism.
The home minister appealed to the House to pass the bill unanimously to send a unanimous and strong message to the world that terrorists are the enemies of humanity and India is committed to finish terror from its soil.
Individuals can be declared terrorists if they commit or participate in acts of terrorism, prepare or promote terror, he said.
The amendment will expedite prosecution in terror cases, he said.
Attacking critics of the law, Shah said those opposing this bill must remember that the original law was not brought by the current government.
"We have always supported a strong law against terrorism and have been committed to any amendment in the past also. A tough law is required to uproot terrorism from India and we would always support that," he said.
Shah said terrorism has no religion and individuals of one religion must not be victimised. He further assured the House that Government is committed to protect the fundamental rights of all citizens.
He said declaring an organisation as a terrorist organisation will not stop individuals behind it.
Not designating individuals as terrorists would give them an opportunity to circumvent the law and they would continue to regroup under different names and continue to indulge in terrorist activities, he noted.
"Till the time a person is not declared a terrorist, there cannot be a check on such person's terror activities," he said.
The minister said only those individuals who participate in terrorist activities, those indulging in such activities, propagate the ideology of terrorism and members of known terrorist organisations will be declared as terrorists after this amendment.
Terrorism, he said, is a global problem and the United Nations, besides several other countries, has provisions in their laws to designate individuals as terrorists.
He said all countries have laws to designate individuals as terrorists, noting that United States, European Union and the United Nations, besides countries like China, Pakistan and Israel also have such a law.
Elaborating on the track record of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), he said out of 278 terror cases registered by the agency, charge sheet has been filed in 204 cases. Of the 54 cases where judgements have come, conviction has been there in 48.
Track record of NIA in conviction in terror cases is outstanding, he said.
Shah said there has been a 91 per cent conviction rate of cases for NIA, which is the highest for any investigative agency across the world.
He said 221 persons who have been convicted, 92 have been freed of charges by the courts.
A total of 131 charge-sheets have been filed from June 1, 2014 to July 2019.
Of the total cases, 109 are against Jihadi cases, 27 against left wing terrorists, 47 cases in north east, 14 against khalistani groups, 45 against those involved in hawala trade and foreign currency violations, and another 36 in other cases.
"All charge sheets are as per law and no one has been freed due to lack of charge-sheet filing," he said.
Earlier Congress leader, P Chidambaram said his party was not against the law but was opposed to some amendments.
He said the issue was that of a liberty of an individual and if the law was passed, it would be struck down by courts.
"An individual who commits terrorist act is punishable. But there is no clear differentiation driven out between punishing an unlawful association and punishing the member of unlawful organisation. Why have you brought this amendment? What is the purpose of this amendment," he asked.
Chidambaram asked why an individual be named a terrorist when the organisation he belongs to has already been banned.
Digivijaya Singh said Congress does not have faith in the government's intent.
Rejecting the charge, Shah took a swipe at Singh saying, "Digvijaya Singh ji seems angry, it is natural, he has just lost an election".
"He (Singh) said 'in 3 cases of NIA no one was punished'. I will tell you why, because earlier in these cases there was political vendetta and an attempt was made to link a particular religion to terrorism," Shah said.