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Examining the UAPA’s Purpose

Context

The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967, India’s comprehensive anti-terror law, has recently been the focus of two cases. There has never been a constitutional review of UAPA. Our constitutional principles are undermined by its persistent violations.

Relevance

GS Paper-2: Indian Constitution – historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure

Mains Question

There has never been a constitutional review of UAPA. The constitutional principles are undermined by its persistent violations. critically assess (250 words)


Key Points:

  • Since the passage of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) in 2002 and the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) in 1985, the extraordinary nature of anti-terror laws has continued to be a subject of intense political debate.
  • TADA and POTA were notorious for their protracted pretrial detention, in-custody abuse, fabricated charges, and coerced confessions.
  • The UAPA version from 2004 was intended to be a more compassionate version of its forerunners.

UAPA Provisions

  • Act of 1967 to Prevent Illegal Activities Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, is primarily an anti-terror law that aims to deal with terrorist activities and more effectively prevent some types of unlawful behaviour by people and organisations.
    • The Act’s most important provisions: o The Act gives the federal government unrestricted authority. It may publish an official gazette designating a particular activity as illegal.
  • The highest penalties under the act are the death penalty and life in prison.
    • Both Indian and foreign nationals may be charged under the act. Even if the crime is committed on a foreign country’s territory outside of India, it will still apply to the offenders in the same way.
    • Within a maximum of 180 days of the arrests, the investigating agency may submit a charge sheet. If additional information is provided to the court, this time frame may be extended.
    • 2019 Amendment: The amendment gives the Central Government the authority to label people as terrorists based on specific criteria.
      • When the case is being investigated by the agency, it gives the Director-General of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) the authority to approve the seizure or attachment of property.
      • It also gives NIA officers with the rank of Inspector or higher the authority to look into cases of terrorism in addition to those that are looked into by state officers with the rank of DSP, ACP, or higher.

Courts’ roles:

  • The Supreme Court developed many protections for how TADA and POTA were applied through judicial interventions.
    • Setting up state and central review committees to prevent the abuse of TADA and classifying TADA detainees into four different brackets to grant bail (Shaheen Welfare Association v. Union of India, 1996) were two such significant judicial innovations (Kartar Singh v State of Punjab, 1994).
    • But in the UAPA era, the court has not been able to offer sufficient safeguards against arbitrary detentions, malicious prosecutions, and protracted pretrial detentions. The ruling in NIA v. Zahoor Ahmad Shah Watali (2020) has made issuing bail all but impossible.

Examining the Purpose of the UAPA:

  • The discussion of the UAPA must go beyond the legality of a few specific provisions. The intent and reach of the law must be carefully considered. Proportionality, a fundamental principle of our Constitution, is the main concern.
    • The Court must decide whether the scope and effects of UAPA are noticeably disproportionate to its stated objectives. The definitions of terms like “terrorist act,” “illegal activity,” “advocacy,” “conspiracy,” “likely to threaten,” and “likely to strike terror” are ambiguous and seem to give agencies arbitrary power.
    • Although concepts like “terrorist act” are ambiguous and subject to interpretation, the proper parameters for judicial decision-making can be established.
      • The most important thing is to have a law that effectively fights terrorism while upholding the Constitution’s requirements. The ability to locate, eliminate, and prosecute terrorists should take precedence.

Conclusion:

  • The UAPA has one of the lowest rates of successful prosecution. Less than 3% of arrests connected to the UAPA between 2015 and 2020 resulted in convictions, according to a PUCL report from 2022.
  • In accordance with the report, only 1,080 of the 4,690 individuals detained under the UAPA between 2018 and 2020 received bail. Several petitions challenging the legality of the 2019 amendment, through which the government can now label people as terrorists, are currently pending before the SC.
  • The Court must take advantage of the chances presented by these challenges to clearly define the goals of the law.

 

July 2024
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