Repeal UAPA

Source: Business Standard

Synopsis: The Statute of UAPA has no place in Democracy.

Background
  • The death of the priest Stan Swamy, who was arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA, offers the government an opportunity to revisit this 54-year-old law.
  • In its current form, the UAPA is out of sync with the country’s democratic credentials.
What are the issues with UAPA?

The UAPA in its current form is an inversion of basic legal precepts.

  • One, it enables the state to arrest and incarcerate citizens almost indefinitely.
  • Two, Bail under the law is extremely difficult to obtain, since courts are required to depend on police documents to presume the guilt of the accused.
    • Recent amendments extended the pre-charge sheet custody period from 90 days to 180 days but even this time period is observed more in the breach.
    • For instance, Stan Swamy was arrested under UAPA for alleged links with Maoist terror organisations, has been in prison for three years.
  • Three, it potentially reduces the economic ability of the accused to fight a legal case.
    • Because UAPA allows courts to provide for the attachment of property equivalent to the proceeds of terrorism involved in the offense.
  • Four, prone to be misused by the state.
    • According to the home ministry data, there has been a 72 percent increase in the number of arrests made under the UAPA between 2015 and 2019.
    • However, the conviction rate has only been roughly 2 percent, underlining the weak grounds on which these cases are built.
How Subsequent amendments strengthened UAPA?
  1. The UAPA became a terror law after amendments were introduced in 2004. But successive amendments between 2008, after the Mumbai terror attacks, and 2019 significantly expanded the scope of the Act.
  2. Currently, in its present form, the UAPA resembles the two previous and hugely controversial terror laws.
    1. One, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Prevention Act (TADA).
      1. It was passed against the backdrop of the turmoil in Punjab. However, It was allowed to lapse in 1995 after being criticized by human rights activists for giving the security agencies the freedom to arrest and torture citizens.
    2. Two, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). It allowed, among other things, confessions obtained by the police to be submitted in evidence. Even this law was allowed to lapse in 2004 due to rising criticism against its misuse by some states.
  3. The 2019 amendment strengthened the UAPA more. It allowed the government to name individuals as terrorists. Previously, only organizations could be given this tag.

Court’s View

  • Recently, the Delhi High Court granted bail to three student protesters arrested under this law.
  • In its ruling, the court reminded the government of the distinction between protests, which are a legitimate activity in a functioning democracy, and an act of terrorism.

India is increasingly being placed in the same league as regimes in Hungary, Turkey, Brazil, and the Philippines for its authoritarian rule. Repealing the UAPA would be a good way of regaining the country’s reputation.

 

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