India has introduced a weapons of mass destruction bill to combat dangerous virus research. Experts say timing of amendment bill may have to do with reports of unauthorised work in labs amid the pandemic, and also as a response to rapid advances in drone technology.
The Weapons of Mass Destruction and Their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Amendment Bill, 2022, was presented in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar.
The legislation aims to extend the preexisting law of the very same title from 2005 to incorporate a prohibition on financing of weapons of mass destruction, as well as giving the federal government the authority to freeze and take the financial assets of those participating in such actions.
A weapon of mass destruction (WMD) is a nuclear, radiological, chemical, biological, or any other device with the capability of causing widespread death and destruction.
Missiles and nuclear bombs are examples, but as the 9/11 terror attacks shown, even commercial airliners can be employed as WMDs.
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Why is the bill being tabled now?
“There is a need to amend the said act to provide against the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems so as to fulfil our international obligations,” the bill states (read below).
According to the bill’s stated goals and rationale, international organizations’ restrictions pertaining to the spread of WMDs and their delivery systems have recently evolved.
“Further, the United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC) targeted financial sanctions and the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) have mandated against the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems,” it says.
Experts believe the bill’s timing is related to concerns of unlicensed activity in labs, as well as rapid technological advancements such as drones.
“The external affairs minister is right in saying that since the bill was last passed, international regulations have become tighter and the existing bill has to be modified to reflect that,” Kanwal Sibal, former foreign secretary, told the media.
“I suspect that in our international interactions, the point about each country needing to update its regulations would have been raised. There seems to be a linkage between this and concern about WMDs falling into the hands of terrorists, a concern repeatedly flagged by the US,” he added.
“Biological weapons have become an issue of serious concern, with the development of dangerous pathogens in laboratories without the necessary level of safety protocols,” Sibal continued.
“In practical terms, there is no possibility of individuals in India developing WMDs, but the law is being tightened to give the government the power to prevent such a possibility. The timing may have to do with the Covid virus as well as reports about unauthorised work in labs in India and even similarly controversial US-linked lab projects in Ukraine too,” the former foreign secretary added.
According to Reuters, the World Health Organization ordered the Ukrainian authorities to eliminate high-threat pathogens in the country’s public health laboratories to avoid “any potential spills” last month.
The proposed modification, according to a former Indian diplomat who did not want to be identified, might be a response to “rapid” improvements in drone technology and other sorts of research.
“I think we now live in a time where technology is advancing rapidly. We have individuals and corporations making strides in drone technology and biomedical and radioactivity research which could fall under the ambit of activities concerning weapons of mass destruction. So, it is important to update the 2005 law accordingly,” the diplomat said.
Additions to the 2005 Act
The revision aims to strengthen Section 12 of the current 2005 statute. The ‘Prohibition on Brokering’ section of Section 12 states: “No person who is a resident in India shall, for a consideration under the terms of an actual or implied contract, knowingly facilitate the execution of any transaction which is prohibited or regulated under this Act: Provided that a mere carriage, without knowledge, of persons, goods or technology, or provision of services, including by a public or private carrier of goods, courier, telecommunication, postal service provider, or financial service provider, shall not be an offence for the purposes of this section.”
The modification proposed by Jaishankar would rename this clause “Section 12A” and add three new sections, the most important of which would allow the central government to freeze assets associated with such activities.
The following are the three provisions under 12A:
(1) 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.
(2) For prevention of financing by such activities, the central government shall have the power to —
(a) freeze, seize or attach funds or other financial assets or economic resources —
(i) owned or controlled, wholly or jointly, directly or indirectly, by such person; or
(ii) held by or on behalf of, or at the direction of, such person; or
(iii) derived or generated from the funds or other assets owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by such person;
(b) prohibit any person from making funds, financial assets or economic resources or related services available for the benefit of persons indulging in such activity
(3) The central government may exercise its powers under this section through any authority who has been assigned the power under sub-section (1) of section 7.
The third provision merely states that the central government can use any jurisdiction it has allocated to carry out the law’s provisions.
Read the full document below: