Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA)

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    In News

    • Recently, the J&K police lodged two FIRs under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) against medical students.

    About

    • It was done after multiple videos allegedly showed students of two medical colleges in Srinagar celebrating the Pakistan cricket team’s victory over India in the T20 World Cup.
    • The cases have been filed under Section 13 of the UAPA and Sections 105-A and 505 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

    Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA)

    • It was passed in 1967.
    • The Act provides special procedures to deal with terrorist activities, among other things.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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 aircrafts, registered in India, wherever they may be.

    Issues with UAPA

    • Criminalizing Thoughts: It criminalizes mere thoughts and political protests that cause “disaffection” with the state. It is an assault of citizens’ right to expression which is also a collective right of groups and unions to disseminate their views. 
    • Ignoring Fundamental Rights: It can simply be used to bypass fundamental rights and procedures. For instance, those arrested under UAPA can be incarcerated up to 180 days without a charge sheet being filed. It thus directly violates Article 21 of the constitution. 
    • 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. 
    • Hindering dissent: It is being used to suppress dissent through intimidation and harassment thus threatening the very existence of public debate and freedom of press and criminalizing the performance of civil liberties.
    • Parliamentary Powers: The issue still remains whether the Parliament under any circumstance can classify the individual as terrorist only because it believes him to be involved in terrorism without any trial or whatsoever. 
    • Restricts Freedoms: UAPA empowers the parliament to restrict the rights and freedoms of citizens to protect ‘the sovereignty and integrity of India’. 
    • 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.
    • Sharp Rise in Use: This caution is significant given the sharp surge in the state’s use of this provision in a sweeping range of alleged offences – against tribals in Chhattisgarh, those using social media through proxy servers in Jammu and Kashmir; and journalists in Manipur among others.

    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. 
    • UAPA, in relaxing timelines for the state to file chargesheets and its stringent conditions for bail, gives the state more powers compared to the Indian Penal Code.
    • The Act needs to be amended, in order to ensure a constitutional functionary who is independent from 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.

      Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) Amendment Bill 2019

    • The Bill additionally empowers the government to designate individuals as terrorists on the same grounds.  
    • Who may commit terrorism: 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.  

    • Approval for 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 seizure of such property.  
    • 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).  

    Source: TH