Unlawful activities (Prevention) Act, (UAPA)

Q. Indian government has recently strengthed the anti-terrorism laws by amending the unlawful activities (Prevention) Act, (UAPA), 1967 and the NIA Act. Analyze the changes in the context of prevailing security environment while discussing scope and reasons for opposing the UAPA by human rights organisations.

The Union Government by amending NIA Act and UAPA Act seeks to provide more powers to India’s anti-terror agency and expand the scope of India’s anti-terror law, thereby providing a big push to India’s internal security machinery.

Under the UAPA Act, the Central Government can designate an organisation as a terrorist organisation if it commits or participates in acts of terrorism; promotes terrorism; or is otherwise involved in terrorism. Currently, only an organisation can be declared a terrorist. The amendment allows government to designate individuals suspected to have terror links as ‘terrorists’.

Likewise, the amendment to NIA Act widens the powers of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to investigate crimes related to human trafficking, counterfeit currency, dealing in prohibited arms, and cyber-terrorism. These were earlier under State police. NIA can also investigate a crime irrespective of its place of occurrence.

These amendments are in pursuance of the government’s zero-tolerance policy against terrorism. These hold significance in the context of the prevailing security environment.

▪️ Terrorism emanating from Pakistan has been a consistent challenge whereby terrorist organisations have been devising new methods to threaten the stability of the region.

▪️ This often included formation of new terrorist outfit by the individuals if their previous organisation was banned. This issue emerged during India’s efforts to designate Masood Azhar as terrorist when some foreign diplomats questioned India’s domestic law which didn’t provide for individual’s designation. Now, declaring an individual as a terrorist will help the government to deal with such situations.

▪️ Besides, there is growing menace of terror financing and organised crimes like human trafficking, cyber terrorism etc. An empowered NIA is a good step in this direction.

However, human rights organisations allege that these amendments violate the basic human rights and seek to create a police state.

▪️ The UAPA does not clearly define a ‘terrorist act’.

▪️ The presumption of innocence is considered a universal human rights principle but the UAPA creates a presumption of guilt for terrorist offences based on the seized evidence.

▪️ Moreover, there is no set procedure for designation as a terrorist. By excluding judiciary and empowering the executive to designate, it dilutes the difference between a terrorist and a terror accused.

▪️ Similarly, the term ‘affecting the interest of India’ in NIA act is undefined and the civil society fears that it can be used to curb freedom of speech and expression.

Thus, though the changes are required to meet the prevailing security environment, the policy framework dealing with terrorism must incorporate the state duty to protect against human rights abuses and greater access of victims to remedies. Apart from dealing with terrorism, emphasis should be on to improve the functioing of the police force and to make India’s judicial mechanism faster.

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