This article is written by Janvi Johar, 2nd year student pursuing B.A.LLB (H) from Amity University, Noida.
Man is a social animal and it is said that man created laws to regulate one’s conduct. However, in the present scenario, many critics are of an opinion that laws have become merely an instrument of suppression that hinders the freedom and liberty of an individual.
One such law is the anti- terror law or the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. This law aims to penalize unlawful activities that hamper the sovereignty and integrity of our nation and thus, confers powers to both the state and central government. To be at power with the changing scenario, this law has been amended on several occasions and one such recent amendment that has proved to be the most controversial is the “Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act 2019″.
In this article we shall not only focus on the key provisions of this amendment, but shall also shed light on the need of such an amendment and the concerns raised over its provisions.
WHY WAS THERE A NEED FOR THE AMENDMENT?
According to the Global Terrorism Index, India is at the 7th position among 10 countries most impacted by terrorism. Being at such a high risk increases India’s need to have an effective counter- terrorism policy.
From time to time, the government has amended this bill to be at pace with the changing trends and techniques to counter terrorism. Some of the reasons attributed to the introduction of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act 2019 is as follows –
- to align national laws with international treaties and obligations
- to make the system more efficient and solve human resource crunch
- to not allow individuals circumvent law
This act defines unlawful activities as ” any action take by individual or association (whether by committing an act or by words, either spoken or written or by signs) to questions, disclaims, disrupts or is intended to disrupt the territorial integrity and sovereignty of India”.
This act empowers the central government to designate associations and individuals as terrorist on grounds that he –
- commits or participates in acts of terrorism
- prepares for terrorism
- promotes or encourages terrorism
- is otherwise involved in terrorism
Prior to the amendment, the approval of Director General of Police was mandatory to seizure property. However, the new amendment adds that if the officer in-charge is of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), then the approval of Director General of NIA would be sufficient for seizure of property.
Further, this amendment confers powers to the officers of NIA of the rank of inspectors and above to investigate cases that come under the purview of this act. Apart from the 9 existing treaties, a new treaty (International Convention for Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism 2005) was added in the list to align national laws with international obligations.
The Amnesty International Executive Director has remarked that Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 has been used to target individuals who criticize government policies. The state can designate an individual as a ‘terrorist’ but the burden of proof lies on that individual to prove his or her innocence. The definition of a ‘terrorist act’ is already so broad and vague that this act can be easily misused by authorities to curb dissent. This is thus, an assault on the right of freedom and expression of an individual.
Some critics are of a view that this law is against the federal structure of our State as it does not recognize the role of police in handling such cases. This law has been termed oppressive and draconian as it allows a custody of at least 180 days with a pending charge sheet. Hence it is said to be a direct violation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
Lastly, the excessive and discretionary powers conferred to the governmental authorities allows creation of special courts with closed door hearings and secret witnesses , hampering individual liberty and freedom.
PETITIONS CHALLENGING IT’s CONSTITUTIONALITY
The Supreme Court of India is currently hearing two separate cases that challenge the constitutional validity of this act. A public interest litigation (PIL) was filed by Sajal Awasthi on the ground that the act violates Article 14,19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution. Another PIL was filled by the Association of Protection of the Civil Rights on the ground that Article 35 of UAPA does not specify the grounds on which an individual can be categorized as a ‘terrorist’. This unreasonable and excessive power is be an antithesis of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.
Though, the cases are still pending before the Supreme Court of India, the SC has on several occasions reviewed this act. In Sri Indra Das vs State of Assam the court is of a view that mere membership will not be a ground for penalizing an individual unless he resorts to violence or instigates violence himself.
It can be rightly concluded that there is very fine line between having individual liberty and political obligation towards the state. Terrorism has always been a major threat to India. However, it can be prevented if policies and laws are followed in letter and spirit.
This article is edited by Rupreet Kaur Dhariwal.