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Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA)

Why is it in the news?

  • Recently, the Delhi Police sealed the office of news portal NewsClick and filed an FIR against it.
  • The FIR invokes the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), a stringent anti-terror law.
  • The case was registered based on allegations that NewsClick received illegal funding for pro-China propaganda routed through the United States.

About Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA)

  • The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) was passed in 1967 with the aim of effectively preventing unlawful activities and associations in India. It is often referred to as an anti-terrorism law.
  • Unlawful activities, according to the UAPA, encompass actions taken by individuals or associations intended to disrupt India’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

 Provisions

  • The UAPA grants significant power to the central government, allowing it to declare an activity as unlawful through an Official Gazette notification.
  • The UAPA prescribes severe penalties, including the death penalty and life imprisonment, for those found guilty of engaging in unlawful activities.
  • The UAPA applies to both Indian and foreign nationals, and it can be enforced even if the crime is committed outside India.
  • Investigating agencies under the UAPA are required to file a charge sheet within a maximum of 180 days after making arrests, with the possibility of extending this duration after notifying the court.
  • Provides for a tribunal to review or hear appeals against bans.

 Amendments to UAPA

  • Amendments in 2004: Criminalized indirectly supporting a terrorist organization by raising of funds for a terrorist act or membership of a terrorist organization etc.
  • Amendments in 2008: Broadened the scope of the provision of “funds” to ensure a wider coverage of the financing of terrorism offences.
  • Amendments in 2012: Expanded the definition of “terrorist act” to include offences that threaten the country’s economic security.

      Amendments in 2019:

  • Government is empowered to designate individuals as terrorists. Earlier, only organizations could be designated as terrorist organizations.
  • If investigation is conducted by an officer of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), approval of Director General of NIA would be required for seizure of property connected with terrorism. (Earlier, approval of Director General of Police was required).
  • Empowered officers of NIA, of rank of Inspector or above, to investigate cases (Earlier, officers of ranks DSP and above were empowered to investigate cases).
  • Added International Convention for Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005) to the Schedule under the Act.

Issues with UAPA

  • Broad Definition of Terrorist Act: Lacks objective criteria, leading to improper stigmatization and mislabelling of individuals.
  • Violation of Federalism: NIA’s power to transfer investigations from State police seen as a federalism violation.
  • Low Conviction Rate: UAPA has a lower per-case conviction rate compared to IPC cases.
  • Recent Judgment Issues: Silent on procedures to determine membership in banned organizations.
  • Violates Right to Free Speech: Some view the UAPA as a tool that indirectly restricts the right to dissent, which is considered an integral part of the fundamental right to free speech and expression in India.

Way Forward

  • Safeguards Against Misuse: Ensure due process while applying the legislation.
  • Central Agency for Evidence Oversight: Aid investigations, especially cross-border cases.
  • Police Reforms: Sensitization, community awareness, and reducing arbitrary police powers.
  • Compensation for Innocent Individuals: Provide compensation for those wrongfully detained under UAPA.
  • Protection of Political Dissent: Enact legislation defining and protecting political dissent.

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