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Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act

Topics Covered: Role of external state and non-state actors in creating challenges to internal security.

Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act:


Context:

The Assam government has informed a UAPA tribunal that major extremist outfits of the northeast had contacted Chinese authorities for assistance in their “fight against India”, but the Chinese had refused to provide assistance directly or indirectly.

What’s the issue?

The United National Liberation Front of West of South East Asia (UNLFWSEA), a Myanmar-based conglomerate of banned outfits such as the NSCN-K, ULFA-I, NDFB-S and KLO, had taken a resolution “to take assistance from a third nation” to achieve their goal.

  • The conglomerate was formed in 2015. The affidavit is not clear on when it approached the Chinese authorities.

Background:

The tribunal was constituted under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) after the Union Home Ministry extended the ban on the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) in November 2019 for five years.

  • On September 22, the tribunal upheld the ban and declared NDFB an “unlawful association for a period of five years”.

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.

Key points:

  • 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.

As per amendments of 2019:

  • 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.

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. Definition of unlawful activity.
  2. Powers of Centre under the act.
  3. Is judicial review applicable in such cases?
  4. Changes brought about by amendments in 2004 and 2019.
  5. Can foreign nationals be charged under the act?

Mains Link:

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.