Supreme Court Verdicts The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA)

Putting a person accused under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act behind bars for an unduly long time with no progress in the trial or appeal process is a violation of his or her fundamental right and a threat to public confidence in the administration of justice, the Supreme Court has held in a judgment.

While deprivation of personal liberty for some period may not be avoidable, the period of deprivation pending trial/appeal cannot be unduly long.

At the same time, timely delivery of justice is part of human rights and denial of speedy justice is a threat to public confidence in the administration of justice.

Once it is known that a timely trial is not possible and the accused has already suffered a significant period of incarceration, the courts are “obligated” to enlarge an undertrial on bail.

The court noted that cases investigated by the National Investigation Agency should be tried on a day-to-day basis and have priority over other cases.

What is UAPA?

Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act is a provision of law in India that was enacted to prevention of unlawful activities associations in India. Its main objective was to make powers available for dealing with activities directed against the integrity and sovereignty of India.

UAPA was originally enacted in 1967, the UAPA was amended to be modelled as an anti-terror law in 2004 and 2008.

In August 2019, Parliament cleared the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019 to designate individuals as terrorists on certain grounds provided in the Act.

In order to deal with the terrorism related crimes, it deviates from ordinary legal procedures and creates an exceptional regime where constitutional safeguards of the accused are curtailed.

Between 2016 and 2019, the period for which UAPA figures have been published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a total of 4,231 FIRs were filed under various sections of the UAPA, of which 112 cases have resulted in convictions.

Salient Features of the UAPA Act

  • The Act gives special procedures to handle terrorist activities, among other things. It aims at the effective prevention of unlawful activities associations in India. Unlawful activity refers to any action taken by an individual or association intended to disrupt the territorial integrity and sovereignty of India.
  • Who may commit terrorism: According to the Act, the union government may proclaim or designate an organisation as a terrorist organisation if it: (i) commits or participates in acts of terrorism, (ii) prepares for terrorism, (iii) promotes terrorism, or (iv) is otherwise involved in terrorism. The Bill also empowers the government to designate individuals as terrorists on the same grounds. 
  • UAPA has the death penalty and life imprisonment as the highest punishments. 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.
  • Under UAPA, both Indian and foreign nationals can be charged. The offenders will be charged in the same manner whether the act is performed in a foreign land, outside India.
  • Approval for property seizure by National Investigation Agency (NIA): As per the Act, an investigating officer is required to obtain the prior approval of the Director-General of Police to seize properties that may be connected with terrorism. The Bill adds that if the investigation is conducted by an officer of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the approval of the Director-General of NIA would be required for seizure of such property. 
  • The investigation by the National Investigation Agency (NIA): Under the provisions of the Act, investigation of cases can be conducted by officers of the rank of Deputy Superintendent or Assistant Commissioner of Police or above. The Bill additionally empowers the officers of the NIA, of the rank of Inspector or above, to investigate cases. 
  • Insertion to the schedule of treaties: The Act defines terrorist acts to include acts committed within the scope of any of the treaties listed in a schedule to the Act. The Schedule lists nine treaties, comprising of the Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997), and the Convention against Taking of Hostages (1979). The Bill adds another treaty to this list namely, the International Convention for Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005).

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