Topics Covered: Linkages between development and spread of extremism.
Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act
What to study?
For Prelims: Key provisions of the act, amendments and recent changes.
For Mains: Significance of the law and criticisms surrounding.
Context: The police have filed an FIR against Devangana Kalita, who is associated with the ‘Pinjra Tod’ group, under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in connection with a case related to communal violence in north-east Delhi in February.
About Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act:
Passed in 1967, the law aims at effective prevention of unlawful activities associations in India.
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.
It has death penalty and life imprisonment as highest punishments.
Under UAPA, both Indian and foreign nationals can be charged. It will be applicable to the offenders in the same manner, even if crime is committed on a foreign land, outside India.
Under the UAPA, the investigating agency can file a charge sheet in maximum 180 days after the arrests and the duration can be extended further after intimating the court.
Amendments and changes:
The 2004 amendment, added “terrorist act” to the list of offences to ban organisations for terrorist activities, under which 34 outfits were banned. Till 2004, “unlawful” activities referred to actions related to secession and cession of territory.
In August, Parliament cleared the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019 to designate individuals as terrorists on certain grounds provided in the Act.
- The Act empowers the Director General of National Investigation Agency (NIA) to grant approval of seizure or attachment of property when the case is investigated by the said agency.
- The Act empowers the officers of the NIA, of the rank of Inspector or above, to investigate cases of terrorism in addition to those conducted by the DSP or ACP or above rank officer in the state.
Criticisms of UAPA:
The law is often misused and abused.
Could be used against political opponents and civil society activists who speak against the government and brand them as “terrorists.”
The 2019 amendment gives unfettered powers to investigating agencies.
The law is against the federal structure, given that ‘Police’ is a state subject under 7th schedule of Indian Constitution.
What needs to be done?
Anti-terror laws should not be used as tool to silence the critics of government.
A committee may be set up to examine and supervise the process of designating individuals as terrorists and investigation of cases with objectivity and fairness.
Arbitrariness under the law should be checked through Judicial review.
- Definition of unlawful activity.
- Powers of Centre under the act.
- Is judicial review applicable in such cases?
- Changes brought about by amendments in 2004 and 2019.
- Can foreign nationals be charged under the act?
Do you agree that the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act could prove catastrophic for fundamental rights? Is sacrificing liberty for national security justified? Discuss and provide for your opinion.
Sources: the Hindu.