Redefining Boundaries of UAPA: Delhi High Court | 16 Jun 2021

Why in News

Recently, the Delhi High Court granted bail to student activists in a Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), 1967 case.

  • While delivering the judgement, the court redefined the boundaries of the otherwise "vague" Section 15 of the UAPA.

Key Points

  • High Court’s Ruling:
    • Extent of Terrorist Activity:
      • Terrorist activity cannot be broadly defined to include ordinary penal offences.
        • By doing so, it raised the bar for the State to book an individual for terrorism under the UAPA.
      • The extent and reach of terrorist activity must travel beyond the effect of an ordinary crime and must not arise merely by causing disturbance of law and order or even public order.
        • It must be such that it travels beyond the capacity of the ordinary law enforcement agencies to deal with it under the ordinary penal law.
    • Careful while Defining Unlawful Activities:
      • The courts must be careful in employing the definitional words and phrases used in Section 15 of UAPA in their absolute literal sense, they should differentiate clearly how terrorism is different even from conventional, heinous crime.
        • Section 15 of the UAPA defines “terrorist act” and is punishable with imprisonment for a term of at least five years to life. In case the terrorist act results in death, the punishment is death or imprisonment for life.
        • The court referred to how the Supreme Court itself, in case of Kartar Singh v State of Punjab 1994, flagged similar concerns against the misuse of another anti-terror law, the Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 (lapsed in 1995).
    • Intent of Enacting UAPA:
      • To bring terrorist activity within its scope, was, and could only have had been, to deal with matters of profound impact on the 'Defence of India', nothing more and nothing less.
      • It was neither the intent nor purport of enacting UAPA that other offences of the usual and ordinary kind, however grave, egregious or heinous in their nature and extent, should also be covered by UAPA.
    • Right to Protest:
      • Observed that protests against Governmental and Parliamentary actions are legitimate; and though such protests are expected to be peaceful and non-violent, it is not uncommon for protesters to push the limits permissible in law.
      • The line between the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest (Article 19) and terrorist activity seems to be getting somewhat blurred.
  • Significance of the Ruling:
    • This is the first instance of a court calling out alleged misuse of the UAPA against individuals in cases that do not necessarily fall in the category of “terrorism” cases.
      • According to data provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs in Parliament in March, a total of 1126 cases were registered under UAPA in 2019, a sharp rise from 897 in 2015.

Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967

  • UAPA was passed in 1967. It aims at effective prevention of unlawful activities associations in India.
    • Unlawful activity refers to any action taken by an individual or association intended to disrupt the territorial integrity and sovereignty of India.
  • The Act assigns absolute power to the central government, by way of which if the Centre deems an activity as unlawful then it may, by way of an Official Gazette, declare it so.
    • It has death penalty and life imprisonment as highest punishments.
  • Under UAPA, both Indian and foreign nationals can be charged. It will be applicable to the offenders in the same manner, even if crime is committed on a foreign land, outside India.
  • Under the UAPA, the investigating agency can file a charge sheet in maximum 180 days after the arrests and the duration can be extended further after intimating the court.
  • The 2004 amendment added “terrorist act" to the list of offences to ban organisations for terrorist activities, under which 34 outfits were banned.
    • Till 2004, “unlawful" activities referred to actions related to secession and cession of territory.
  • In August, Parliament cleared the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019 to designate individuals as terrorists on certain grounds provided in the Act.
    • The Act empowers the Director General of National Investigation Agency (NIA) to grant approval of seizure or attachment of property when the case is investigated by the said agency.
    • The Act empowers the officers of the NIA, of the rank of Inspector or above, to investigate cases of terrorism in addition to those conducted by the DSP or ACP or above rank officer in a state.