Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), 1967 is an act enacted by the Parliament with the aim to control the unlawful activities and associations in India so that the integrity and the sovereignty of the nation will be protected and maintained. In the year 2019, the Cabinet at the Centre has amended the UAPA 1967, with Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2019 to widen the Act’s ambit. But this move of the government is vehemently criticised by a lot of the citizens, politicians, activists, etc. of the country and termed it as a “Draconian law”. So, it is important to understand the amended provisions, contested violations and criticisms.
The UAPA was amended many a times to incorporate the varying techniques of terrorism that is from shifting the ‘burden of proof’ to making ‘extra-territorial arrests’. Initially the UAPA 1967 empowered government to declare any organization that “commits, participates, prepares, promotes, encourages or is involved in terrorism as a terrorist organisation” but following the amendment, Sections 35 and 36 of Chapter VI or Schedule 4 of the Act empowers the government to declare any individual a terrorist if “it believes that the individual has committed, participated, prepared for or promoted terrorism”. Section 36 also allows the Director General of the NIA to seize or confiscate the properties of such individuals (or organisations) who are declared as terrorists. Section 43 is also amended which authorises the officers with rank of inspectors and above to investigate cases under UAPA. All the review committees are given power to ‘denotify’ an individual labelled as a terrorist under the amended Section 36 of the Act.
Violations and Criticisms:
The legality of the amended Act is briefly questioned as it violates many fundamental rights, civil rights, and human rights of the victim. Labelling an individual as a terrorist without sufficient proof and detaining them for the same violates the basic tenet of the criminal law i.e., “right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty” described under Article 11 of the Universal declaration of Human Rights, also within the country’s criminal laws and under many International Covenants. Such arbitrary powers also violate the Right to Reputation of a person entitled under the Right to Life with Dignity of the Constitution as he will be exposed to consequences in the social and political environment. Confiscation of the properties of a person without proper justification also violates Article 21 of the Constitution as Right to Property under Right to life is a Constitutional right. Article 19(a) of the Constitution which talks about the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression will be very much violated as dissenting can be called as a terrorist act by the arbitrary power holders. The same was seen during the Longest ever internet ban that was imposed by the police of J&K invoking UAPA Amendment, 2019 when Article 370 was repealed by the Centre, using the provisions of UAPA Amendment 2019, police have arrested hundreds of people who have used VPN’s to escape the ban so as to protest against the repealing through electronic means and during the arrest of the thousands of Anti-CAA protestors but the defence given by the centre was to “secure the integrity and sovereignty of India”. UAPA Amendment will act as a tool to curb the voices of the agitators against the government brutally. This opens a gate way for unlawfully detaining people for upto 6 six months or 180 days as opposed to 60-90 days earlier thus violating Article 22 of the detained which provides protection against arrest and detention for people in custody and also infringes the Right of the alleged to receive a fair trial under Section 304 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Article 14 is also being violated by the Act as it does not provide any proper grounds upon which an alleged could be categorised as a terrorist and hence is utterly arbitrary in nature. The amended law is violating the “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” and the “International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights” which are collectively called as the “International Bill of Human Rights”. The amended law has also authorised lower ranking officials to investigate the UAPA cases providing the police officers liberty to prosecute whomever they what without any fear and in the manner they felt appropriate as custodial confessions are admissible in court allowing them to use ‘custodial torture’ and ‘ill treatment’.
And the conviction in the UAPA cases has always been low. According to the 2019 data from the National Crime Records Bureau, 1,948 people were arrested under UAPA with zero conviction and 64 acquittals, explaining us the grave misuse of power by the government authorities as the data is itself self-explanatory.
Sajal Awasthi v Union of India and Association for Protection of Civil Rights v Union of India are the two Public Interest Litigations that were filed in the Supreme Court invoking Article 32 in 2019 where both the petitioners pleaded to declare the Unlawful Activities Prevention Amendment Act 2019 unconstitutional as it violates the basic tenets of the Constitution. A bench lead by the then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Ashok Bhushan heard the pleas and issued notices to the Central government and to the Ministry of Law and Home Affairs to respond to the pleas but the bench has not directly intervened into the process. But to this day, no move was made by the government reacting to the notices of the Apex Court.
 When a person is designated as a terrorist, the alleged has to prove his innocence before the National Information Agency. If the investigators reject the plea of the alleged, then the alleged has to approach the ‘Review Committee’ which will comprise of ex-judges and bureaucrats who have the power to adjudicate upon the pleas.
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