The bill is a cornerstone of the Modi government’s zero-tolerance policy against terrorism. The bill was passed with 147 Member of parliament voting in favor of the UAPA Amendment bill 2019 while only 42 polled against it. In the trail of intensifying terrorist activities in the country; the NDA government has changed special provisions of The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 to fight terrorism and Naxalism in the country.
Let’s know which activities are contemplated as unlawful activities under this law and what modifications have been made in this act?
Historical challenges to UAPA and antecedent legislations
Although the UAPA has been in force since 1967, the Parliament injected a devoted Chapter towards retaliating terrorist activities only in 2004, by way of the UAPA Amendment Act, 2004 (Chapter IV). Hereafter, amendments were made to the constitution in 2008 and 2013 as well.
Previous to this redesigning of UAPA, terrorist activities were mainly dealt with under the repealed Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 (‘TADA’) and Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 (‘POTA’.)
Over the years, several questions have been raised about the constitutional certainty of both TADA and POTA.
These questions were primarily on the basis that the Union did not have the legislative competence to authorize these laws. For example, in Kartar Singh v. the State of Punjab, the certainty of TADA was challenged on the ground that it dealt with the problem of ‘public order’, which was within the legislative domain of states.
Nevertheless, the Court approved the validity of TADA. The Court kept that ‘public order’ covered issues of minor gravity and more serious threats encircled in TADA fell within the Union’s domain relating to national defense. An identical question was lifted against POTA in PUCL v Union of India, which too was confronted by the Court on similar grounds. By contrast, the UAPA has never been questioned on the ground of legislative competence.
What is UAPA?
The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 enables more effective prevention of certain unlawful activities of individuals and associations and for dealing with terrorists.
Importance and Application of this Act
1. It is acceptable across the country.
2. Any Indian or foreign national arrested under UAPA is accountable for punishment under this Act, irrespective of the location of crime/offense executed.
3. UAPA will be acceptable to the offenders in the same way, even if the crime is executed on foreign land, outside India.
4. The provisions of this Act also pertain to citizens of India and abroad.
5. Persons on ships and aircraft, enrolled in India, wherever they may be are also under the ambit of this act.
What is the Unlawful Activity in India?
“Unlawful activity” refers to any action carried by an individual or association (whether by engaging an act or by words, either spoken or written or by signs to questions, disclaims, or is aimed at to disrupt the territorial integrity and sovereignty of India.)
This act also restricts the cession of a part of the territory of India or the secession of a part of the territory of India from the Union, or which incites any individual or group of individuals to bring about such cession or secession.
Modifications in The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967
The union cabinet not only altered the NIA act of 2008 but also altered the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. Lok Sabha ratified the NIA amendment act, 2019 on Jul 15, 2019, and Rajya Sabha Ratified it on 17th July 2019.
Revision to Schedule 4 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act will enable the NIA to announce an individual believed to have terror links as a terrorist.
Before, only organizations were appointed as ‘terrorist organizations’ but after the modification in the UAPA, 1967 an individual can also be termed a terror suspect.
But this law raises a serious concern.
Varavara Rao, an 80-year-old Marxist poet from Telengana, Sudha Bharadwaj, a 60-year-old civil rights activist who spent 30 years working for the marginalized in Chhattisgarh, Hany Babu, an English professor in DU, Arun Ferreira, a lawyer in Mumbai, young student activists Safoora Zargar, Sharjeel Imam and Umar Khalid what do they all have in common?
They have all been stamped as terrorists under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and booked for sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Their crime? They differed and condemned the policies of the State.
Today, during the COVID-19 outbreak, most of them are deteriorating in jail, and our Courts have glanced away.
So what are the worries?
1. First, the UAPA was authorized to counter terrorist activities, in line with India’s obligations at the UN.
Accordingly, Chapters IV to VI of the Act deals with terrorist offenses, However, the aforesaid activists and professionals have done no such thing. They barely exercised their right to dissent and disagree with State policies through their speech and writings, a right Constitutionally protected under Article 19(1)(a).
2. Second, by condemning a person of terrorism under the UAPA, tremendous power is granted to the Courts – to deny bail. Under Section 43D(5) of the UAPA makes an exception to this condition and allows the Court to refute bail for a terrorist act if it is of the impression that there are acceptable grounds to speculate that the accusation is prima facie true.
3. Third, investigative agencies are spreading the scope of the UAPA, a special law dealing with highly specific offenses, outside its domain. Occurrences like the Delhi Riots and Bhima Koregaon, where riots turned brutal and disrupted law and order, the rightful law to have pertained in the Indian Penal Code, as these offenses are localized in and do not pose a danger to the unity and honesty of India as a whole.
4. Finally, oppressing professors, lawyers, students, intellectuals, activists, and proactive citizens by stamping them as “anti-nationals”, “Tukde-tukde gang” and “urban Naxals”, it is India’s rich democratic belief that undergoes the most.
Time and again the Supreme Court has comprehended that the fundamental right to free speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution comprises the right to dissent.
Well, It won’t be wrong to reanalyze, what Atal Bihari Vajpayee had said when the Indira Gandhi government gave rise to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Bill to Parliament in December 1967.
“The committee was handed over a donkey so that it could be turned into a horse. But the result is that it has become a mule. Now it’s alright for the home ministry to use this mule to carry weight, but… if the ministry thinks that they will sit on this mule and fight the battle for national integrity, then I humbly oppose it.”
It’s 2020, UAPA law is being rampantly used on dissenters accordingly and this is still pertinent.
Maybe or not, all these innocent’s suffering will fade in vain. Maybe it will serve as a wake-up call to the people of this country, that their Constitutional freedoms, won after decades of struggle by our freedom fighters, are now in danger and compel protection.
If not, this will be noted down as an extraordinary time in India’s history textbooks, where future generations will learn that while innocent persons were being stamped as terrorists and locked up, India was talking over Bollywood and its fraud theories.