UAPA should go the way of TADA & POTA

Source: TOI

Relevance: Misuse of UAPA to curb political dissent.

Synopsis: Right to fair trial is being consistently violated under the UAPA provisions. This law should be repealed like TADA and POTA.

Background

Father Stan Swamy, an 84-year-old Jesuit priest, known for his service and activism in the cause of Adivasis, died nine months into his unjust imprisonment. He was charged of being a part of a Maoist plot to overthrow the government.

  • His age and deteriorating health drew no sympathy from either the prosecuting agency or the trial court.  Despite being a fit case for bail, he was denied bail, mainly due to the statutory bar on bail under the anti-terrorism law invoked against him.
Evidence against him

As per prosecution,

  • He was in contact with Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao and Arun Ferreira, all accused of terrorism and criminal conspiracy in the Elgar Parishad case. It is instructive to note that the main accused Varavara Rao is out on bail for medical reasons. But the same yardstick was seemingly not applied to Swamy.
  • Communist literature was found on a hard drive. This was deemed sufficient to keep Father Swamy in jail despite his failing health.
    • The NIA court observed that in light of the seriousness of the charges against him, the collective interest of the community would outweigh Swamy’s right of personal liberty and his old age.
Problems with UAPA provisions 

Laws such as the UAPA are meant to be repressive, to be deployed at the slightest inconvenience to the state.

  • The provisions of this Act have an extremely wide ambit. For example: Membership of a banned organization can be deduced simply by possessing literature of an organization. The Act gives the police sweeping powers and makes it nearly impossible for people to get bail.
  • Given the snail’s pace at which the criminal justice system works, the UAPA has become merely a tool to incarcerate people. It keeps them entangled in the legal system for as long as the state desires. The process itself is the punishment.
    • According to the National Crime Records Bureau, as of 2019, over 95% of cases under the UAPA are pending before various courts in India. This amounts to 2,244 cases with at least as many accused, if not many more. The conviction rate under this Act stands at a mere 29%.

Conclusion
Indian Penal Code (IPC) is more than sufficient to handle incidents of terror, disaffection, unlawful associations, whatever they may be. It is time for the UAPA to meet the same fate as its predecessors – TADA and POTA – and be repealed.

Also Read: Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) – Explained
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