Defining terrorist act

By K.N. Pandita

When terrorism assumed dangerous proportions as was manifested in events like 9/11 and the rest, democracies reacted in accordance with the law of the land. Closer study of existing legal dispensation revealed many discrepancies in the prevailing law. More importantly, a number of new dimensions of terrorism, hitherto not contemplated by law, came to fore. Thus democratic governments everywhere re-visited their existing legal regime to ensure that all dimensions of terrorism, from the definition of terms used to the execution of terrorist plans and missions came under the purview of law.   

The US administration went to the length of establishing a new department to deal with terrorism; it came to be called the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a cabinet department of the  federal government, created in response to the September 11 attacks, and with the primary responsibilities of protecting the United States of America and U.S. territories from terrorist attacks, man-made accidents, and natural disasters.. In fiscal year 2011, DHS was allocated a budget of $98.8 billion with more than 220000 personnel on its pay roll. This explains how seriously the US administration took the threats from rising terrorism.

Our country is among the targets of terrorists. Actually since 1989, we are faced with constant attacks by externally sponsored terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in the country. During the two decades of relentless fight against terrorism, we have seen that the terrorists, under the guidance of their masters from across the
border, are regularly changing tactics and strategy to disrupt peace and destabilize the government. The terrorists are not guided by any human law and they are not accountable to any agency. Their objective is to create lawlessness so that they can freely and without accountability perpetrate atrocities and extortions and thus mutilate
civil society with impunity. But the States are enjoined upon by their constitution to protect the life of the citizens and their property.

Therefore the State must act. But its act cannot be outside the constitutional frame. The question is whether the constitutional and legal frame provided to the State are adequate and sufficient enough to take into account all tactics and nuances of terrorism that go on changing from day to day. It was this inadequacy that had necessitated passing of anti-terrorism Acts like POTA and TADA. Unfortunately, we have elements in society that pretend to be more loyal than the king.

When implementation of these anti-terrorist laws was enforced, it harmed segments with vested interest and they ganged up to force the government to withdraw the anti-terrorism laws which they called draconian. The compulsion of the State is that it has to adhere to the constitution and the law. Closer examination of terrorist phenomenon revealed that the existing laws did not take into consideration aspects like kidnapping for ransom, raising funds for perpetration of terrorism, transferring funds through illegal means like hawala to militant outfits, counterfeiting Indian currency and disseminating fake currency notes under meticulous planning, misusing social network etc. were not covered by the definition of terrorist act.

The fact of the matter is that even on the definition of term “terrorism?” or “terrorist” there has been a long-drawn debate at the UN Human Rights Council where legal luminaries of the world usually gather together to discuss issues. The deep controversy on the definition was summed up in a piquant sentence that ran as this: “One man’s terrorist is another man’s hero”. It has to be remembered that a State is expected to protect human rights of a person whether he is a victim or a terrorist. Human rights are not divisible.

It is in this background that the Lok Sabha has recently passed a Bill that seeks to expand the definition of “terrorist act” to include offences that threaten the country’s economic security. The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, which was passed by voice vote, also extends the period of ban on an organisation from two years to five years. The amendments also seek to include procurement of weapons, raising funds for terrorist activities and counterfeiting Indian currency under the definition of a “terrorist act.” It has to be emphasized that the externally sponsored militants are trying hard to subvert country’s economy. One of their tactics is to clandestinely import fake Indian currency and then proliferate it in our country through anti-national elements that are all linked up by a strong network. Likewise, in recent times, the trend of raising funds through public contributions and transferring the same to local terrorist moles has become widespread. Security agencies have apprehended many people involved in these clandestine activities but absence of precise definition and punishment in such cases has eluded their final disposal. With the Lok Sabha passing the new bill called Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill the task of dealing with new dimensions of terrorist acts in strict legal terms becomes clear and authentic. There was a feeble attempt by a couple of parliamentarians to obstruct the bill when put to voice vote, and they called it “draconian”. But the Home Minister, conscious of his responsibilities assured the house that it would not be misused.

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