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Bill in Lok Sabha on WMDs: What it seeks to do, and why it’s been introduced now

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.

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New Delhi: This Tuesday, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar introduced the Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Amendment Bill, 2022, in the Lok Sabha.

The bill seeks to expand the existing 2005 law of the same name, to include a ban on funding of weapons of mass destruction, and empowers the central government to freeze and seize the financial assets of people involved in such activities.

A weapon of mass destruction (WMD) is defined as a nuclear, radiological, chemical, biological, or other device that has the capacity to inflict death and destruction on a massive scale.

Examples include missiles or nuclear bombs, but as evident in the 9/11 terror attacks, even passenger jets can also be used as WMDs.


Also read: China bigger threat than Russia-Ukraine crisis: Jaishankar hints to EU at Indo-Pacific meet


Why is the bill being tabled now?

The bill has been introduced now because “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,” it reads.

The bill’s statement of objectives and reasons says that in recent times, regulations relating to the proliferation of WMDs and their delivery systems by international organisations have expanded.

“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 say the timing of the bill may have to do with reports of unauthorised work in labs, and also as a response to rapid advances in technology, 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 ThePrint.

“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.

Last month, the World Health Organization was quoted as saying by Reuters that it advised the Ukrainian government to destroy high-threat pathogens in the country’s public health labs to prevent “any potential spills”.

A former Indian diplomat, who did not wish to be named, said the proposed amendment could be a response to “rapid” advances in drone technology and other forms 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 amendment seeks to substantiate Section 12 in the existing 2005 law. The Section 12, titled ‘Prohibition on brokering’, 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 amendment proposed by Jaishankar seeks to rename this section as “Section 12A”, with three additional provisions which mainly empower the central government to freeze assets of such activity.

The three provisions under 12A would include:

(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 is simply a clarification that the central government can take action via any authority it has so delegated to implement the law.

(Edited by Manoj Ramachandran)


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