The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill that seeks to amend the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 received Presidential assent on August 8th, 2019. This controversial bill, which has now become the law of the land, empowers individuals to be declared ‘terrorists’ by the Central Government. In other words, the Government has the power to designate any individual person as a ‘terrorist’ if they (i) commit or participate in acts of terrorism, (ii) prepare for terrorism, (iii) promote terrorism, or (iv) is otherwise involved in terrorism.
The expansion of executive power qua the new bill is problematic as the provisions remain vague and ambiguous. It doesn’t explain when will an individual be said to be a ‘terrorist’ i.e. on the filing of an F.I.R or at the stage of filing of a charge-sheet. Also will the Court adjudicate on it or is it just a discretion of the Government via an National Investigative Authority (NIA) notification also remains to be seen. Previously, only an organisation or a group could have been termed ‘terrorist organisation’ if the same was affirmed by the Court..
The UAPA amendment joins the long list of legislations passed by the Union Government which undermines the core of the Indian Constitution i.e. federalism apart from Article 21. The amendment now gives authority to the Director General (NIA) to attach property of the accused, the power which solely rested with Director General Police of the state in which such property was situated. In the past, the state police were to be contacted and informed before taking any action against individual and before conducting raids but the requirement has been done away with and a free hand has been given to NIA.
The legislation prior- to the amendment was already draconian, as it made bail an exception and imprisonment the rule, while allowing remand of the accused for 30 days without presenting them before the court. However, now the NIA can keep one in remand for a continuous period of six months altogether.
Moreover, the establishment of the ‘review committee’ before which one can challenge the designation of a person as a ‘terrorist’ is problematic as it does not have any judicial member and again remains under the complete control of the executive. This backdrop is important to understand that the burden of proving the innocence rests on the individual, a complete reversal from the criminal trial principle i.e. innocent until proven guilty. Now it stands to say, Guilty until proven innocent.
Though, as per Supreme Court mere membership of banned organisation isn’t a crime per se and requires an ‘overt’ physical action which undermines the sovereignty and integrity of the nation, the UAPA allows policing of thoughts, critical thinking and ideology with legislative sanction as now it seeks to criminalise people based on their ‘intent’. Thus, now an individual can be arrested without any crime being committed and informed on the charges against them.
One just needs to note the statistics of National Crimes Records Bureau (NCRB) to understand the wide abuse of UAPA as more than 75% of trials have ultimately resulted in acquittals. With the current amendment, the potential of abuse will increase manifold to hit at the core principles of equality, liberty and privacy of the citizens.
- A Concerned Indian