Supreme Court verdict on UAPA is fraught with risk

Source- The post is based on the article “Supreme Court verdict on UAPA is fraught with risk of making it legal for agencies to act lawlessly while claiming to fight terrorism and preserve State’s security” published in “The Indian Express” on 28th March 2023.

Syllabus: GS2- Judiciary

Relevance– Important judgement impacting the rights of people

News– Recently, the Supreme Court in Arup Bhuyan vs The State Of Assam Home Department held that mere membership of a banned association is sufficient to constitute an offence under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.

What are issues concerning the judgement?

The judgement is fraught with the risk. Agencies can act lawlessly while claiming to fight terrorism and preserve the State’s security.

Unless there is a specific intent to enhance the abilities of an unlawful organisation, convicting a person as a member is a violation of the rule of law. The verdict also suffers from substantive contradictions in its reasoning.

The Court has set aside the reading down of both Section 10(a)(i), UAPA. It has struck down its previous rulings in Arup Bhuyan vs State of Assam, and State of Kerala vs Raneef.

The Raneef judgement provided a narrow interpretation of Section 10(a)(i) of UAPA. Section 10(a)(i) punishes membership of unlawful organisations with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years.

In Arup Bhuyan (2011) the Supreme Court ruled that mere membership of a banned organisation will not incriminate a person. It can be done if a person resorts to violence or incites people to violence or does an act intended to create disorder.

Banned organisations are not known to keep a registry with their members’ names, addresses, phone numbers, and email IDs. In most cases, membership must be inferred.

Jyoti Babasaheb Chorge vs State of Maharashtra (2012) demonstrates how innocent young men and women can get incriminated as members of unlawful organisations merely by association.

15 people, all young tribal women and men, were charged as members of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) for possessing Maoist propaganda literature. There was no accusation against them of being involved in any terrorist act or act of violence.

What are the challenges faced by states in case of laws against terrorism?

The definitions of terrorist and unlawful organisations in UAPA are vague. The Act merely states that they are organisations involved in “unlawful activities” and notified as such.

States worldwide are facing troubles in defining terrorism and terrorist groups with some precision. Their purpose is to protect against the inappropriate labelling of people as terrorists, and to curtail the abuse of counterterrorism powers.

Mislabelling dilutes efforts to combat actual terrorism. It undermines democratic values and institutions and increases the security threat.

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