Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967
Delivering a judgment defining the contours of the otherwise “vague” Section 15 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, (UAPA) a division bench of the Delhi High Court has laid down some important principles upon the imposition of Section 15, 17 & 18 of the Act.
The issue came up while granting bail to Delhi-riots accused who faced charges for being part of a “larger conspiracy” during the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 protests which erupted into violence resulting in deaths across North-East Delhi.
The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act:
- Passed in 1967, the law aims at effective prevention of unlawful activities associations in 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.
As per amendments of 2019:
- 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 the state.
- It also included the provision of designating an individual as a terrorist.
Sections 15, 17 and 18 of UAPA:
- Section 15 engrafts the offence of ‘terrorist act’.
- Section 17 lays-down the punishment for raising funds for committing a terrorist act.
- Section 18 engrafts the offence of ‘punishment for conspiracy etc. to commit a terrorist act or any act preparatory to commit a terrorist act’.
Key observations made by the court:
- “Terrorist Act” Should not be used lightly so as to trivialise them.
- Terrorist activity is that which travels beyond the capacity of law enforcement agencies to deal with under ordinary penal law. The court relied on the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Hitendra Vishnu Thakur.
- Every terrorist may be a criminal but every criminal cannot be labelled terrorist (Hitendra Vishnu Thakur judgment).
- Terrorist acts should not be equated with the usual law and order problem in the state.
- “Terrorist Act” Can’t Be Casually Applied To Cases Falling Within Conventional Offences Under IPC.
Implications of this judgment:
- With this, the court has raised the bar for the State to book an individual for terrorism under the UAPA.
- It also points out alleged misuse of the UAPA against individuals in cases that do not necessarily fall in the category of “terrorism” cases.
- This caution is significant given the sharp surge in the state’s use of this provision in a sweeping range of alleged offences — against tribals in Chhattisgarh, those using social media through proxy servers in Jammu and Kashmir; and journalists in Manipur among others.