U.P. Reports most UAPA Arrests

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    • Recently, Uttar Pradesh reported the highest number of arrests under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967, followed by Jammu and Kashmir, and Manipur.

    Image Courtesy: TH

    • The number of persons arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in the years 2019 and 2020 is 1,948 and 1,321 respectively as per the National Crime Record Bureau’s report.
    • Since 2016, 7,243 persons were arrested under UAPA and during the same period, 212 persons were convicted. 
      • As many as 286 cases ended in acquittal, 25 cases were abated and 42 cases were discharged by courts.

    Unlawful Activities Prevention (UAPA) Act

    Origin: 

    • It was first promulgated in 1967 to target secessionist organisations and considered to be a predecessor of laws such as the (now repealed) Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) and Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA).
    • It aims at effective prevention of unlawful activities associations in India.
    • Unlawful activity refers to any action taken by an individual or association intended to disrupt the territorial integrity and sovereignty of India.

    Key Provisions:

    • Definition: Unlawful activity means any conduct which constitutes a crime or which contravenes any law whether such conduct occurred before or after the commencement of this Act and whether such conduct occurred in the Republic or elsewhere.
    • The provisions of this Act apply also to— 

    (a) citizens of India outside India; 

    (b) persons in the service of the Government, wherever they may be; and 

    (c) persons on ships and aircraft, registered in India, wherever they may be.

    • Punishment: Section 15 of the UAPA defines “terrorist act” and is punishable with imprisonment for a term of at least five years to life. In case the terrorist act results in death, the punishment is death or imprisonment for life.
      • The Act assigns absolute power to the central government, by way of which if the Centre deems an activity as unlawful then it may, by way of an Official Gazette, declare it so.
      • Both Indian and foreign nationals can be charged. It will be applicable to the offenders in the same manner even if the crime is committed on foreign land, outside India.
    • Chargesheet:  The investigating agency can file a charge sheet in a maximum of 180 days after the arrests and the duration can be extended further after intimating the court.
    • UAPA cases are tried by special courts.
    • Bail related provisions : 
      • It is rare for an accused to get bail easily in a case under UAPA.
        • The court can refuse bail if in its opinion the case is “prima facie” true.
        • An accused cannot seek anticipatory bail and the period of investigation can be extended to 180 days from 90 days on the public prosecutor’s request — which means the accused has virtually no chance of getting bail by default.
    • The 2004 amendment: It added the “terrorist act” to the list of offences to ban organisations for terrorist activities, under which 34 outfits were banned. Till 2004, “unlawful” activities referred to actions related to secession and cession of territory.

    Issues Surrounding the UAPA Act

    • Curbs individual’ Fundamental Right: It is a draconian law that curtails fundamental rights of an individual in the name of tackling terror by making it very tough for the accused to get Bail.
    • Highly Discretionary: It confers upon the government broad discretionary powers and also authorizes the creation of special courts with the ability to use secret witnesses and to hold closed-door hearings. 
    • Restricts the dissenting voices: Criticism of the state can be termed an act “likely to threaten” India’s sovereignty.
      • It is being used to suppress dissent through intimidation and harassment thus threatening the very existence of public debate and freedom of the press and criminalizing the performance of civil liberties.
    • Unchecked power to the government: Persons barely linked to terrorist acts or organisations can still be brought within the UAPA’s ambit:
      • by alleging that they work in nebulously defined “terrorist gangs” or “front organisations”
      • by charging them under expansively worded offences such as “supporting” a banned organisation and holding property that could be used by it.
    • Stringent Provision of bail: The standard for bail under the UAPA is that it cannot be granted unless the court is of the view that the accused is innocent of the alleged offence. 
      • This is a prima facie standard, which means that the onus of proof of innocence, even for the purpose of obtaining bail, is effectively reversed. It is for the accused to show, for the purposes of bail, that he is innocent.
    • Low Conviction Rate: The fact that only 2.2 % of cases registered under the UAPA between the years 2016-2019 have ended in convictions by court highlights the above issues associated with this act.

    Way Ahead

    • A strong anti-terrorism law is needed in India, but its enforcement will always result in some draconian anomalies like the arrests of activists. 
    • The existing UAPA does have effective provisions to combat terrorism (cognizable offence) but there are also some defects and demerits which needs to be addressed properly to make the law effective and efficient to prevent and combat terrorism. 
    • The UAPA is a fairly harsh law drafted to deal with some harsh circumstances and with people spending more than a decade in jail before being acquitted, its potential for misuse has been realised. 
    • The Act needs to be amended, in order to ensure a constitutional functionary who is independent of the Executive, be in charge of sanctions for prosecutions and investigations under this Act. Maybe a High Court Judge could be designated for this purpose. 
    • Terrorism and unlawful activities are ones that always create political issues. If the Act has to work, its application must, at all times, look apolitical.
    • Higher standards of proof must be applied for conviction and there must be provisions like compensation to victims or punishment/enquiry against those who bring malicious complaints.
    • Judiciary needs to play an active role and provide early bail to the falsely accused and quash the baseless allegations at the early stage.

      Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) Amendment Bill 2019

    • The Bill additionally empowers the government to designate individuals as terrorists on the same grounds.  
      • Under the Act, the central government may designate an organisation as a terrorist organisation if it: (i) commits or participates in acts of terrorism, (ii) prepares for terrorism, (iii) promotes terrorism, or (iv) is otherwise involved in terrorism.  
        • The Bill additionally empowers the government to designate individuals as terrorists on the same grounds.  
    • Approval for the seizure of property by NIA: Under the Act, an investigating officer is required to obtain the prior approval of the Director-General of Police to seize properties that may be connected with terrorism.  
      • The Bill adds that if the investigation is conducted by an officer of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the approval of the Director-General of NIA would be required for the seizure of such property.  
    • An investigation by NIA: Under the Act, investigation of cases may be conducted by officers of the rank of Deputy Superintendent or Assistant Commissioner of Police or above. 
      •  The Bill additionally empowers the officers of the NIA, of the rank of Inspector or above, to investigate cases.
    • Insertion to schedule of treaties: The Act defines terrorist acts to include acts committed within the scope of any of the treaties listed in a schedule to the Act.  The Schedule lists nine treaties, including the Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997), and the Convention against Taking of Hostages (1979).  
      • The Bill adds another treaty to the list.  This is the International Convention for Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005).   

     

    Image Courtesy:TH

    Source: TH