The proposed amendments to the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act has come under the scanner. Many feel that it is saddening and surprising that at a time when more and more evidence is surfacing about the extensive abuse of anti-terror laws in targeting minorities, tribals, deprived sections as well as political activists, the government has chosen to move amendments in the present UAPA 2008. These amendments will make the law even more draconian and amenable to human rights violations, rights activists say. Continue reading “Is the UAPA amendment as draconian as POTA, TADA?”
The shocking revelation that crime and drug cartels had transacted money at the HSBC and the Standard Chartered bank had prompted an in-depth investigation by the Indian agencies. The Reserve Bank of India with the support of the Revenue Intellligence Wing has found startling details during their investigation apart from also finding out that some elements within the bank had helped these criminals transact.
However the probe is far from complete as it has also revealed that a considerable chunk of money has been transacted in the Indian banks as well. The probe at first was specific to the two above mentioned banks, but now it is found that there are other players too and this has prompted investogators to place other banks under the scanner as well.
Money laundering in India by criminals is not something new. Money earned from drug trade, betting, fake currency, hawala have all found their way to legitimate banks. During the probe it has been found that the money in question has landed up mysteriously in banks and there are lot of international transactions which are non explanatory in nature.
It was also found during the probe that such transactions had shot up over the past three years after the heat on hawala transactions had risen. Hawala had been a safe passage for these criminals, but the transactions by bigger criminals using this form had come down. Moreover the probe also found that they had completely avoided bigger transactions in the past couple of years. One person who regularly used a hawala transaction for the past 10 years had completely stopped this mode of transaction. Instead this person decided to use an alias in the bank to open an account. Since the past three years the deposits into the bank have been high and even the international transactions had gone up.
IB officials say that it would not be right to say that each and every transaction has been used to fund terror networks. While a considerable amount of money has been used to fund terror, the other part of it has been circulated in order to fund illegal businesses.
However this form of parking and transacting illegal money has not yet hit the smaller criminals. The questioning of some of the touts and insiders has revealed that clients with smaller amounts below Rs 5 crore are not entertained. Although these persons do not park such a huge chunk of money at one shot, accounts were opened on an assurance that they would in due course. However with smaller operations the middle men were not prepared to take any risk, officials pointed out.
India has often complained about money laundering and had also said that international agencies were doing little to help. However this time around the agencies find the banks to be on a bit of a back foot and hence the cooperation levels too are higher. The Indian agencies have however found that there have been transactions between other banks as well and hence has decided to widen the ambit of the probe. While the United States pointed out flaws in two financial institutions, the Indians say they will cross check with other banks as well. Regular inspections are being carried out in all banks and also checking whether these banks have complied with the norms on Anti Money Laundering and Counter Financing of Terrorism.
Indian agencies today will also be armed with the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act which has a wider ambit todat following the cabinet nod. The act could be made applicable to this probe as well, sources say. The expansion to the act sought to deal with money laundering and decided to make this a terrorist offence. While it was originally coined to deal with the circulation of fake currency, its ambit could be widened to all acts of money laundering, officials pointed out.
The Cabinet nod to expand the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act so as to give a broader dimension to the terrorist act is a shot in the arm for investigators who probe cases pertaining to economic security.
While giving the nod, it also sought an opinion from the state governments on how to make this act more powerful since the states have a very big role to play in this too. While some state governments had delayed the approval of the bill as they sought more consultation, many others are in favour of this proposal which will now be placed before the Parliament of India for a final clearance.
The most important aspect of this proposal is that the jail term for any person even associated with money laundering or counterfeiting would go up from the existing two years to five years under this act apart from the seven years that the Indian Penal Code already provides. More importantly any act of counterfeiting will directly fall under the definition of a terrorist act. It is also proposed to empower the courts dealing with such cases to attach property of those persons involved in such acts.
While terrorist organisations continue to fund themselves with the sale of counterfeit currency, the biggest advantage of this act would be that it would bring small timers and local gangsters too under the ambit of a terrorist. Whether or not there is an association with any terror group, a person indulging in such an act small or big would still be defined as a terrorist as his actions would be seen as a threat to the economic stability of the country.
The state governments which have been giving their feed back say that in most of the cases that they have found it is the local gangsters who are circulating fake currency. In most of the cases the source of the funds have not been tracked and very often the culprits get away with minor punishments.
Police sources say that this proposal which has been cleared by the cabinet will act as a deterrent as there would be the fear that any such activity would directly be classified as an act of terror. It is one thing to be called a criminal and a whole other thing to be named a terrorist, the police also point out.
The agencies have been having a tough time dealing with this menace. It was clear that they were unable to stem the flow of fake currency since it is present in large numbers. The manner in which the fake currency was being made and the authenticity was next to impossible to track. The only way that they were able to find out was that there was circulation of more notes than what was already printed by India. The RBI was only able to stem the flow by banning the series 2aq and 8ac. This meant that the entire series of notes in the 1000 denomination with the series numbers 2aq and 8ac. It was a desperate attempt on part of the Indian agencies to stem the flow since even the genuine notes in this series were ordered to be kept out of circulation since the major inflow into the Indian market were with these serial numbers.
However police officials say that it is not very difficult for terror groups to pump in notes with the new series and they will do it for sure. However at the root level there will be a fear to circulate these notes since if any one is caught doing so he is termed as a terrorist and local gangsters would not want that tag and hence their activities would come down a great deal.
The Cabinet nod will strengthen the existing laws a great deal. Under the Indian Penal Code, Section 476 states that- Whoever counterfeits upon, or in the substance of, any material, any device or mark used for the purpose of authenticating, intending that such device or mark shall be used for the purpose of giving the appearance of authenticity to any document then forged or thereafter to be forged on such material, or who, with such intent, has in his possession any material upon or in the substance of which any such device or mark has been counterfeited, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine. Moreover it is also a non cognisable/non bailable offence triable by the Magistrate of the first class.
Investigating agencies are also hopeful that while this act gives them more teeth while investigating, it would also help them get more convictions. In the cities of Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Lucknow, there are an average of 10 cases of counterfeiting registered every day. The conviction rate of all these cities put together is just about 7 per cent. While officials have managed to detect the crime they are finding it hard to obtain a conviction. More often than not the accused take the defence it landed in their possession and very often it becomes hard to prove the case otherwise.
The pitfalls- While the new act gives the police a blanket power to term a person with counterfeit currency as a terrorist, they would want to be careful while dealing with a genuine victim. These notes often come out of the banks and an ATM and more often than not people do not even realise. The sad part is that if a person does realise and report it to the bank the only option before him is destruction of that note. Police officials however say that they will be careful and can tell between a genuine victim and an accused. An accused is often found in possession of many notes. However if people find fake notes on them and come and report the matter to us, we will be sympathetic towards their cause. Moreover an accused would never report such a matter to the police. However it is mandatory that any person who is found in possession of a fake note having the series banned by the RBI must report the matter to the bank or to the police station. The police say that it would go a long way if people come forward and alert them when they find such a note. This way the bank from where they got the note could be alerted and they would be more careful. More often than not, it is found that people with fake notes never report the matter and try to pass it off at a crowded shop of a petrol bunk. The police feel that the banks too must do more and if a person is found in possession of one or two notes, he should be compensated as none would like to lose their hard earned money.
The proposal to amend the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in so far as counterfeit currency is something that security agencies have waited for quite some time. The latest proposal would be to make counterfeiting of currency a terrorist offence and this would go a long way in controlling this menace which has often shaken up the Indian economy.
What has been found in the Indian market is that not all cases of counterfeiting of currency are directly linked to terror operations. There are many local gangs which undertake such operations on a smaller scale but the ratio is still at 20 per cent when compared to the operations that are carried out by terrorist groups.
Indian Intelligence Bureau officials say that the racket is huge still and Pakistan has clearly shifted its resources into Bangladesh. This would mean that the epi centre is today Bangladesh and it has been found during investigations that it has become like a cottage industry over there. The large number of infiltrators and the easy access into India through their border has only increased this menace further.
Today any incident of counterfeiting is punishable under Section 476 of the Indian Penal Code. Section 476 of the IPC states- Whoever counterfeits upon, or in the substance of, any material, any device or mark used for the purpose of authenticating, intending that such device or mark shall be used for the purpose of giving the appearance of authenticity to any document then forged or thereafter to be forged on such material, or who, with such intent, has in his possession any material upon or in the substance of which any such device or mark has been counterfeited, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine. Moreover it is also a non cognisable/non bailable offence triable by the Magistrate of the first class.
Each city in the country on an average registers at least 15 cases involving counterfeit currency in a month. However the conviction rate is a meagre 10 per cent and this is what has been the most worrying aspect of this crime. A Deputy Commissioner of Police in Bangalore told rediff.com that the biggest problem is not the detection, but it is the conviction. In at least 8 out of the ten cases the police have not been able to establish the trail that led up to the crime. A person is arrested and then he is sent to judicial custody. When the trial commences the first defence that he takes up is that the currency landed into his possession without his knowledge and he like any other gullible citizen was duped into it. More often than not the courts take this version as it is very difficult for the prosecution to establish the offence.
Now if this amend goes through, it would make the job of the police easier. Although they would still need to establish the offence, it would still give them a positive start when the trial begins. Moreover any person dealing with fake currency would think twice before going ahead with the crime as it becomes an offence classified under the ambit of terrorism. This would also act as a deterrent for the local gangs which undertake this operation on a smaller scale. They may not be associated with any terror agency, but would still be classified as terrorists if found to be in possession of marketing fake currency.
The men on the border also have a field day due to the weakness in the Indian legal system. If such an amendment is brought about then it would act as a major deterrent thanks to the fact that the rate of convictions would also shoot up thanks to this amendment. The onus would be more on the person being charged to prove that he is not guilty unlike the existing scenario where the police and the prosecution have a bigger job to prove the guilt of the person.
The bigger question however is what happens to the common man who is found to be in possession of a fake note for no fault of his. The police feel that a stronger law would only make the common man even alert. Even though there are various guidelines regarding fake currency, the common man has been very negligent. However with this amendment it would make him or her more alert. There is a need to check every note that comes into one’s hand and only this way with citizen participation can the menace be eradicated. Moreover it would also make the common man report the matter immediately if found to be in possession of fake currency. Very many instances have been found where the matter is not being reported and this only ensures that the notes are in circulation for a longer time in the Indian market. The advisory would be to keep a very close watch on the notes with the denominations of 500 and 1000 as these denominations are most counterfeited.
The other aspect to this amendment would be the booking of naxalites for terrorism. In Andhra Pradesh it has been found recently that some naxalites and their sympathisers have been trying to raise funds through circulation of fake currency. There has always been a debate whether naxal related activities should be brought under the ambit of “terrorism.” If this amendment comes through then it would be if they are found to be in possession or even circulating/manufacturing fake currency in the Indian market. The government feels that countefieting should be looked as something that funds terror activities.
Read some more:
The National Investigation Agency after probing the 26/11 case for nearly two years has filed its chargesheet against David Headley and others before the Special Court in Patiala House, New Delhi today.
The chargesheet also names Hafiz Saeed, Tawwahur Rana, Ilyas Kashmiri, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi among others.
The chargesheet also comprises the names of Abdul Rehman Hashmi, Major Iqbal, Major Samir Ali and Sajid Majid . The common charge against all these persons is that they were waging a war against the country and also under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
Now with the chargesheet being filed, the trial against these persons although in absentia could officially begin.