Why in the News?

The Union Minister of India has said it was necessary to have strict laws like the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) by which action could be taken against terrorists and those who “behead other people”.

Unlawful (Activities) Prevention Act (UAPA)

  • The UAPA is aimed at the effective and efficient prevention of unlawful activities and any such associations in India.
  • Its main objective is to make abilities available for dealing with activities directed against the integrity and sovereignty of India
  • It is an upgrade to the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act TADA, which was allowed to lapse in 1995 and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) was repealed in 2004.
  • It was originally passed in the 1967 congress government led by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
  • Till 2004, “unlawful” activities referred to actions related to secession and cession of provinces. Following the 2004 amendment, the “terrorist act” was added to the list of crimes.

Major feature: Designation of Terrorists

  • The Central government amended UAPA, 1967, in August 2019 to include the provision of identifying an individual as a terrorist.
  • Before this amendment, only organisations could be designated as terrorist set-ups.
  • Section 15 of the UAPA states a “terrorist act” as any act committed with the aim to threaten or likely to threaten the unity, integrity, security, economic security, or sovereignty of India or with intent to strike terror or likely to strike terror in the society or any section of the people in India or in any foreign country.
  • The original Act dealt with “unlawful” acts related to secession; anti-terror provisions were introduced in 2004.

Who makes such a designation?

  • The UAPA (after the 2019 amendment) seeks to enhance the central government to designate an individual as a “terrorist” if they are found committing, preparing for, promoting, or involved in an act of terrorism.
  • A similar provision already exists in Parts 4 and 6 of the legislation for organizations that can be designated as “terrorist organisations”.

How individuals are declared terrorists?

  • The central government may designate an individual as a terrorist through official notification in the official gazette, and add his identity to the schedule supplemented to the UAPA Bill.
  • The government is not bound to give an individual a chance to be heard before such a designation.
  • At present, in line with the legal presumption of an individual being innocent until proven guilty, an individual who is convicted in a terror case is legally referred to as a terrorist.
  • While those suspected of being involved in terrorist activities are referred to as terror accused.

What happens when an existent is declared a terrorist?

  • The tag of an individual as a global terrorist by the United Nations is related to warrants including travel bans, freezing of all assets and a proscription against earning arms.
  • The UAPA, still, doesn't give any similar detail.
  • It also doesn't bear the form of cases or arresting individuals while tagging them as terrorists.

Removing the terrorist tag

  • The UAPA gives the central government the power to remove a name from the schedule when an individual makes an application.
  • The process for such an application and the criteria of decision-making will be approved by the central government.
  • If any application filed by an individual declared a terrorist is rejected by the government, the UAPA gives him the right to seek a review within one month after the application is rejected.
  • The central government will decide on the review committee consisting of a chairperson (a retired or sitting judge of a High Court) and three other members.
  • The review committee is empowered to order the government to delete the name of the individual from the schedule that lists “terrorists” if it considers the order to be flawed.
  • Apart from these two avenues, the individual can also move the courts to challenge the government’s order.

Way Forward

  • A robust anti-terrorism law is needed in India, but its enforcement will continually result in some draconian aberrations like the arrests of activists.
  • The existing UAPA does have adequate provisions to combat terrorism (cognizable offence) but there are also some flaws and demerits which need to be managed properly to make the law effective and efficient to prevent and battle terrorism.
  • The UAPA is a relatively harsh law drafted to deal with some harsh occurrences and with people spending more than a decade in jail before being acquitted, its prospect for misuse has been recognised.
  • UAPA, in settling timelines for the state to file charge sheets and its tough conditions for bail, delivers the state more authority compared to the Indian Penal Code.
  • The Act needs to be amended, in order to guarantee a constitutional officer who is autonomous of the Executive and is in command of sanctions for prosecutions and investigations under this Act. Maybe a High Court Judge could be specified for this purpose.
  • Terrorism and unlawful activities are ones that invariably form political matters. If the Act has to operate, its application must, at all times, look apolitical.