Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act

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    In Context

    • Prime Minister recently said that Central laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) had given an impetus to the system in a decisive fight against terrorism.

    More about the news

    • PM’s push for UAPA:
      • The Prime Minister said the police should be equipped to face not only those Naxals who hold a gun but also those who wield a pen and mislead the youth by exploiting their emotions. 
      • He said such forces who get “international support” should not be allowed to take roots as they were detrimental to the unity and integrity of the country.
    • Background:
      • Statement on the anti-terror legislation UAPA comes at a time when the Supreme Court is examining a petition that has challenged the validity of the law. 
      • The Opposition on several occasions has accused the government of misusing the UAPA against political opponents

    About Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA)

    • About:
      • It was passed in 1967.
      • The Act provides special procedures to deal with terrorist activities, among other things.
    • Aim:
      • It is aimed at “more effective prevention of certain unlawful activities of individuals and associations for dealing with terrorist activities”.
    • What is “Unlawful activity”?
      • 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.
    • What is a “Terrorist act”?
      • 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.
    • Power to central government:
      • 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.
    • 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.
      • 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).  

    Issues with UAPA

    • Low conviction:
      • According to a source, in 2018-20, as many as 4,690 people were arrested under the UAPA but only 3% were convicted.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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
    • 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. 
    • Parliamentary Powers: 
      • UAPA empowers the parliament to restrict the rights and freedoms of citizens to protect ‘the sovereignty and integrity of India’. 
      • 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. 

    Way Ahead

    • Terrorism is unquestionably a global threat, and terrorist organizations continue to target India even today. 
    • The Act has indeed been the center of several debates because of its abusive nature and lack of a proper mechanism for backup.
    • It is up to the state, judiciary, civil society to balance constitutional freedom and the imperative of anti-terror pursuits. 

    Source: TH