Contents

  1. Only around 2% of UAPA cases ended in convictions
  2. SC rejects plea to reexamine sedition law

ONLY AROUND 2% OF UAPA CASES ENDED IN CONVICTIONS

Context:

Union Home Ministry presented data in the Rajya Sabha, based on the 2019 Crime in India Report compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), which showed that only 2.2 % of cases registered under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act between the years 2016-2019 ended in convictions by court.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance, GS-III: Internal Security Challenges

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Unlawful Activities Prevention Amendment Bill, 2019
  2. Some Concerning Points about designation of someone as terrorist
  3. Issues with UAPA

Unlawful Activities Prevention Amendment Bill, 2019

The original Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967, dealt with “unlawful” acts related to secession; anti-terror provisions were introduced in 2004.

It provides special procedures to deal with terrorist activities, among other things.

Key Provisions of the Amendment

The Bill amends the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA) and 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:

  1. commits or participates in acts of terrorism
  2. prepares for terrorism
  3. promotes terrorism
  4. is otherwise involved in terrorism

The word “terror” or “terrorist” is not defined.

However, a “terrorist act” is defined as any act committed with the intent –

  1. to threaten or likely to threaten the unity, integrity, security, economic security, or sovereignty of India
  2. to strike terror or likely to strike terror in the people or any section of the people in India or in any foreign country

The central government may designate an individual as a terrorist through a notification in the official gazette.

  • The Bill empowers the officers of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), of the rank of Inspector or above, to investigate cases.
  • Under the Act, an investigating officer can seize properties that may be connected with terrorism with prior approval of the Director General of Police.

Some Concerning Points about designation of someone as terrorist

  • The government is NOT required to give an individual an opportunity to be heard before such a designation.
  • At present, legally, a person is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.
  • In this line, an individual who is convicted in a terror case is legally referred to as a ‘terrorist’.
  • And those suspected of being involved in terrorist activities are referred to as ‘terror accused’.
  • The Bill does NOT clarify the standard of proof required to establish that an individual is involved or is likely to be involved in terrorist activities.
  • The Bill also does not require the filing of cases or arresting individuals while designating them as terrorists.

Issues with UAPA

  1. UAPA gives the state authority vague powers to detain and arrest individuals who it believes to be indulged in terrorist activities. Thus, the state gives itself more powers vis-a-vis individual liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
  2. UAPA empowers the ruling government, under the garb of curbing terrorism, to impose indirect restriction on right of dissent which is detrimental for a developing democratic society. The right of dissent is a part and parcel of fundamental right to free speech and expression and therefore, cannot be abridged in any circumstances except for mentioned in Article 19 (2).
  3. UAPA can also be thought of to go against the federal structure since it neglects the authority of state police in terrorism cases, given that ‘Police’ is a state subject under 7th schedule of Indian Constitution.

How can the names be removed?

  • Application – The Bill seeks to give the central government the power to remove a name from the schedule when an individual makes an application.
  • The procedure for such an application and the process of decision-making will also be decided by the central government.
  • If an application filed is rejected by the government, the Bill gives the person the right to seek a review within one month of rejection.
  • Review committee – Under the amendment Bill, the central government will set up a review committee.
  • It will consist of a chairperson (a retired or sitting judge of a High Court) and 3 other members.
  • It will be empowered to order the government to delete the name of an individual from the schedule that lists “terrorists”, if it considers the order to be flawed.
  • Apart from these two avenues, the individual can also move the courts challenging the government’s order.

-Source: The Hindu


SC REJECTS PLEA TO REEXAMINE SEDITION LAW

Context:

The Supreme Court rejected a plea urging it to reexamine the constitutional validity of Section 124A of IPC, which deals with sedition.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is sedition?
  2. Sedition Laws
  3. History regarding Sedition Law
  4. Supreme Court Judgments on Sedition Law
  5. Points in favour of Section 124A
  6. Points against Section 124A

What is sedition?

Sedition is incitement of discontent or rebellion against a government; i.e., any action, especially in speech or writing, promoting such discontent or rebellion against the government.

Sedition Laws

  • Currently, Sedition is a crime under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
  • Section 124A IPC defines sedition as an offence committed when “any person by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India”.
  • Disaffection includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity. However, comments without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, will not constitute an offence under this section.

Punishment for the Offence of Sedition

  • Sedition is a non-bailable offence. Punishment under the Section 124A ranges from imprisonment up to three years to a life term, to which fine may be added.
  • A person charged under this law is barred from a government job.
  • They have to live without their passport and must produce themselves in the court at all times as and when required.

History regarding Sedition Law

  • Sedition laws were enacted in 17th century England when lawmakers believed that only good opinions of the government should survive, as bad opinions were detrimental to the government and monarchy.
  • The law was originally drafted in 1837 by Thomas Macaulay, the British historian-politician, but was inexplicably omitted when the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was enacted in 1860.
  • Section 124A was inserted in 1870 by an amendment introduced by Sir James Stephen when it felt the need for a specific section to deal with the offence.
  • It was one of the many draconian laws enacted to stifle any voices of dissent at that time.
  • Some of the most famous sedition cases during the British Raj involved charges against the leaders of the Indian Independence Movement. The first among them was the trial of Jogendra Chunder Bose in 1891, which we discussed above.
  • The most well-known cases were the three cases of Bal Gangadhar Tilak (one of which we discussed previously) and the trial of Mahatma Gandhi in 1922.
  • In this case, Mahatma Gandhi and Shankerlal Banker were accused of sedition for three articles published in the magazine ‘Young India’, which criticized the British government. Gandhi’s powerful speech in court where he pleaded guilty to the charges against him led to a ruling in his favor.

Supreme Court Judgments on Sedition Law

  • The SC highlighted debates over sedition in 1950 in its decisions in Brij Bhushan vs the State of Delhi and Romesh Thappar vs the State of Madras.
  • In these cases, the court held that a law which restricted speech on the ground that it would disturb public order was unconstitutional.
  • It also held that disturbing the public order will mean nothing less than endangering the foundations of the State or threatening its overthrow.
  • Thus, these decisions prompted the First Constitution Amendment, where Article 19 (2) was rewritten to replace “undermining the security of the State” with “in the interest of public order”.
  • In 1962, the SC decided on the constitutionality of Section 124A in Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar – wherein it upheld the constitutionality of sedition, but limited its application to “acts involving intention or tendency to create disorder, or disturbance of law and order, or incitement to violence”.
  • In 1995, the SC, in Balwant Singh vs State of Punjab, held that mere sloganeering which evoked no public response did not amount to sedition.

Points in favour of Section 124A

  • Section 124A of the IPC has its utility in combating anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements.
  • It protects the elected government from attempts to overthrow the government with violence and illegal means. The continued existence of the government established by law is an essential condition of the stability of the State.
  • If contempt of court invites penal action, contempt of government should also attract punishment.
  • Many districts in different states face a maoist insurgency and rebel groups virtually run a parallel administration. These groups openly advocate the overthrow of the state government by revolution.
  • Against this backdrop, the abolition of Section 124A would be ill-advised merely because it has been wrongly invoked in some highly publicized cases.

Points against Section 124A

  • Section 124A is a relic of colonial legacy and unsuited in a democracy. It is a constraint on the legitimate exercise of constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression.
  • Dissent and criticism of the government are essential ingredients of robust public debate in a vibrant democracy. They should not be constructed as sedition. Right to question, criticize and change rulers is very fundamental to the idea of democracy.
  • The British, who introduced sedition to oppress Indians, have themselves abolished the law in their country. There is no reason why India should not abolish this section.
  • The terms used under Section 124A like ‘disaffection’ are vague and subject to different interpretations to the whims and fancies of the investigating officers.
  • IPC and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act 2019 have provisions that penalize “disrupting the public order” or “overthrowing the government with violence and illegal means”. These are sufficient for protecting national integrity. There is no need for Section 124A.
  • The sedition law is being misused as a tool to persecute political dissent. A wide and concentrated executive discretion is inbuilt into it which permits the blatant abuse.
  • In 1979, India ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which sets forth internationally recognized standards for the protection of freedom of expression. However, misuse of sedition and arbitrary slapping of charges are inconsistent with India’s international commitments.

-Source: The Hindu

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