Mr. Amit Shah, Minister of Home Affairs, introduced the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019 in the Lok Sabha on July 8, 2019. The bill makes changes to the 1967 Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The Act, among other things, establishes special procedures for dealing with terrorist activities.
WHAT IS UAPA ACT?
The UAPA was passed in 1967 by the then-Congress government of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as an enhancement to the TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, which was allowed to lapse in 1995 and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) was repealed in 2004. Amendments were eventually made under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governments of 2004, 2008, and 2013.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is currently serving as India's Central Counter-Terrorism Law Enforcement Agency, as mandated by the NIA Act 2008.
The UAPA Act's Most Important Features
Among other things, the Act establishes special procedures for dealing with terrorist activities. Its goal is to effectively prevent illegal activity associations in India. Unlawful activity is defined as any action taken by an individual or group with the intent of undermining India's territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Who is capable of committing terrorism: According to the Act, if an organisation: I commits or participates in acts of terrorism, (ii) prepares for terrorism, (iii) promotes terrorism, or (iv) is otherwise involved in terrorism, the union government may declare or designate it as a terrorist organisation. The bill also gives the government the authority to label people as terrorists for the same reasons.
The death penalty and life imprisonment are the most severe penalties under UAPA. The Act gives the central government absolute power, and if the Centre deems an activity to be illegal, it can declare it so through an Official Gazette.
Both Indian and foreign nationals can be charged under the UAPA. Whether the act is committed in a foreign country or in India, the offenders will face the same charges.
Approval for property seizure by the National Investigation Agency (NIA): Under the Act, an investigating officer must obtain the Director-General of Police's prior approval before seizing properties that may be linked to terrorism. If the investigation is conducted by a National Investigation Agency (NIA) officer, the Director-General of the NIA must approve the seizure of such property, according to the Bill.
The investigation by the National Investigation Agency (NIA): Under the Act's provisions, officers with the rank of Deputy Superintendent or Assistant Commissioner of Police or higher can investigate cases. The Bill also allows NIA officers with the rank of Inspector or higher to conduct investigations.
Addition to the treaty schedule: The Act defines terrorist acts as those committed within the scope of any of the treaties listed in the Act's schedule. The Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997) and the Convention against the Taking of Hostages (1998) are among the nine treaties listed on the Schedule (1979). The International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism is added to the list by the bill (2005).
WHAT AMENDMENTS WERE MADE IN UAPA ACT 2019?
• It allows the government to label people as terrorists if they commit or participate in terrorist acts, plan terrorist attacks, promote terrorism, or are otherwise involved in terrorism.
• This was done because it has been observed that when a terrorist organisation is outlawed, its members form a new group to continue the terrorism.
• The bill also gives the Director-General of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) the authority to approve property seizure or attachment when the case is under investigation by the agency.
• Under the current law, the investigating officer must first obtain the Director General of Police's (DGP) approval before seizing any property linked to terrorism.
• It has been observed that many terror suspects own properties in various states. In such cases, obtaining approval from DGPs from various states becomes extremely difficult, and the resulting delay may allow the accused to transfer property.
• It gives NIA officers with the rank of Inspector or higher the authority to investigate cases.
• The current Act mandates that cases be investigated by officers with the rank of Deputy Superintendent or Assistant Commissioner of Police or higher.
• There are no changes to the arrest or bail provisions. Furthermore, the provision that the investigating agency bears the burden of proof rather than the accused has not been changed.
• Through the Amendment, the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005) was also added to the Second Schedule.
Preventing Abuse: Terrorism is undeniably a serious threat that must be addressed with strict anti-terrorism legislation. But only if the provisions of the UAPA are followed in letter and spirit, rather than being abused to falsely accuse individuals.
Drawing the Line Between Individual Freedom and the State's Obligation to Provide Security: Drawing the line between individual freedom and the state's obligation to provide security is a classic dilemma. Officers are responsible for maintaining professional integrity, adhering to the principle of objectivity, and avoiding any misuse.
Judicial Review: The judiciary has a larger role to play here in carefully examining cases of alleged misuse. Judicial review should be used to check for arbitrariness and subjectivity in the law.