Context of The Unlawful Activities Prevention Amendment (UAPA) Bill:
The Unlawful Activities Prevention Amendment (UAPA) Bill is an anti-terror legislation that seeks to designate an individual as a “terrorist”.
Lok Sabha cleared the changes to the existing law, but Opposition parties and civil liberties lawyers have criticised the bill, arguing it could be used to target dissent against the government and infringe on citizens’ civil rights.
Definition of Terrorist according to the UAPA bill:
- Bill seeks to empower the central government to designate an individual a “terrorist” if they are found committing, preparing for, promoting, or involved in an act of terror.
- A similar provision already exists in Part 4 and 6 of the legislation for organisations that can be designated as a “terrorist organisation”.
- The words “terror” or “terrorist” are not defined, but the UAPA Bill in Section 15 defines a “terrorist act” as any act committed with intent to threaten or likely to threaten the unity, integrity, security, economic security, or sovereignty of India or with intent to strike terror or likely to strike terror in the people or any section of the people in India or in any foreign country.
- The original Act dealt with “unlawful” acts related to secession; anti-terror provisions were introduced in 2004.
Key issues involved in the Unlawful Activities Prevention Amendment (UAPA) bill:
- The central government may designate an individual as a terrorist through a notification in the official gazette, and add his name to the schedule supplemented to the UAPA Bill.
- The government is not required to give an individual an opportunity to be heard before such a designation.
- At present, in line with the legal presumption of an individual is innocent until proven guilty, an individual who is convicted in a terror case is legally referred to as a terrorist, while those suspected of being involved in terrorist activities are referred to as terror accused.
- The Bill does not clarify the standard of proof required to establish that an individual is involved or is likely to be involved in terrorist activities.
- The designation of an individual as a global terrorist by the United Nations is associated with sanctions including travel bans, freezing of assets and an embargo against procuring arms.
- The UAPA Bill, however, does not provide any such detail.
- The Bill also does not require the filing of cases or arresting individuals while designating them as terrorists.
Addressing some of the Issues:
- It seeks to give the central government the power to remove a name from the schedule when an individual makes an application.
- The procedure for such an application and the process of decision-making will also be decided by the central government.
- If an application filed by an individual declared a terrorist is rejected by the government, the Bill gives him the right to seek a review within one month after the application is rejected.
- Under the amendment Bill, the central government will set up the review committee consisting of a chairperson (a retired or sitting judge of a High Court) and three other members.
- The review committee will be empowered to order the government to delete the name of the individual from the schedule that lists “terrorists” if it considers the order to be flawed.
- Apart from these two avenues, the individual can also move the courts challenging the government’s order.
Other key changes proposed in the UAPA Bill:
- The existing UAPA law requires an investigating officer to take prior permission of the Director-General of Police of a state for conducting raids, and seizing properties that are suspected to be linked to terrorist activities.
- The amendment Bill, however, removes this requirement if the investigation is conducted by an officer of the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
- The investigating officer, under the Bill, only requires sanction from the Director-General of NIA.
- Central agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) are required to obtain prior permission from the state government since law and order is a state subject under the Constitution.
- The existing UAPA law specifies that only officers of the rank of Deputy Superintendent or Assistant Commissioner of Police of the NIA shall have the power to investigate offences under the UAPA law.
- The Bill seeks to allow NIA officers of Inspector rank to carry out investigations.
- There must be a distinction between an individual and an organisation, and it must be kept in mind that the Constitution guarantees the former the right to life and liberty.
- The Centre and investigative agencies have wide discretionary powers to decide what constitutes a terrorist offence.
- The government could use its power to tag a person as a terrorist to stifle dissent or to target people from specific communities.
- The policing powers of states will be further curtailed if the amendments to the UAPA act are approved