Skip to main content

Successive UPA, NDA govts responsible for 'extreme stringency' of UAPA: Ex-babus

Counterview Desk 

In an open letter addressed to the "citizens of India", more than 100 ex-civil servants, who are members of the Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG), have said that the Government of India is violating citizens' fundamental rights by the arbitrary use of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
"We urge the replacement of the UAPA by legislation which, while addressing concerns regarding terrorism, safeguards the fundamental rights of citizens guaranteed by the Costitution of India", the letter by ex-civil servants, claiming to be impartial and neutral, insist.

Text:

We are a group of retired officers of the All India and Central Services who have worked with the Central and State Governments in the course of our careers. As members of the Constitutional Conduct Group, we believe in impartiality, neutrality and commitment to the Indian Constitution and in safeguarding its values.
We are writing this in the matter of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) that violates the Constitutional guarantees of citizens’ fundamental rights. Though this law has been in existence in India’s statute books for over five decades, the harsh amendments it has gone through in recent years has made it draconian, repressive, and amenable to gross misuse at the hands of ruling politicians and the police.
Typical of such misuse are the cases of the three anti-CAA student protestors -- Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal and Asif Iqbal Tanha -- who were arrested under UAPA without any valid grounds but were recently granted bail by the Delhi High Court in a detailed and unprecedented order.
On March 9, 2021, Union Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy, in a written reply to the Lok Sabha, admitted to the uncommon overuse of the UAPA. He confirmed that 1948 persons were arrested under the UAPA in 1,226 cases across the country in 2019, which showed a 72% increase as compared to 2015. The following figures will show the increase in cases and arrests between 2015 and 2019:
  • 2015: 897 cases with 1128 arrests
  • 2016: 922 cases with 999 arrests
  • 2017: 901 cases with 1554 arrests
  • 2018: 1182 cases with 1421 arrests
  • 2019: 1226 cases with 1948 arrests
2019 saw the highest number of arrests in the country, particularly in the states of Uttar Pradesh (498) Manipur (386), Tamil Nadu (308), Jammu & Kashmir (227) and Jharkhand (202).
Despite the large number of arrests under the UAPA, the number of prosecutions and convictions shows a steep decline. The Government of India has admitted that a mere 2.2% of the cases registered between 2016 and 2019 resulted in conviction. We may conclude that the vast majority of the arrests under UAPA were made on specious grounds just to spread fear and muzzle dissent.
The UAPA has a chequered history. This legislation, first passed in 1967 on the recommendations of the National Integration Council to combat communalism, casteism, regionalism and linguistic chauvinism and to deal with associations engaged in secessionist activities, has changed colour over time and has now become a statute that has created new categories of offences and punishments.
The UAPA was not used extensively prior to the last decade as the Government of India had, meanwhile, enacted preventive detention laws such as the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA-1971), the National Security Act (NSA-1980), the Terrorist And Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA-1987) and The Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA-2002).
But after the 9/11 terror attack on the USA, the UN Security Council passed a resolution asking national governments to enact countrywide anti-terror laws. The Government of India complied by passing the UAPA Amendment Act, 2004, carrying stringent provisions to suppress terrorism.
However, the Government of India seriously departed from the principles of criminal jurisprudence and from the provisions of the Constitution when the UAPA (Amendment) Act, 2008 was codified after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack. This was done during the tenure of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
Successive UPA and NDA Union governments which have been or are in power are responsible for the extreme stringency of the UAPA. In 2008, the UPA government made bail provisions much more stringent, increased the pre-charge detention period from 90 days to 180 days and, most damagingly, placed the burden of proof on the accused.
In 2019, the NDA government further amended the UAPA to allow individuals, not merely organisations, to be designated terrorist. This amendment also gave unfettered and autocratic powers to the executive, in particular the National Investigation Agency (NIA), to enter any State and arrest any person. Though some voices of protest were raised when these amendments were made, most political parties supported the move. For the UPA members or any other party to act outraged now is, therefore, disingenuous.
The most shocking of the arrests under the UAPA have been of persons accused in the Bhima-Koregaon case. Several well regarded activists who have fought throughout their lives for the rights of tribal people and other oppressed groups have been arrested as terrorists and, even today, languish in jail. The names of those arrested are well known -- Sudha Bhardwaj, Rona Wilson, Gautam Navlakha, Anand Teltumbde, Arun Ferreira and Varavara Rao, to name a few.
The UAPA, first passed in 1967 to combat communalism, casteism, regionalism, and secessionism, has changed colour over time
And, of course, Father Stan Swamy -- an 84 year old Jesuit priest -- suffering from Parkinson’s and other ailments, who was not granted bail despite repeated requests and eventually died while in custody.
Former judge of the Patna High Court, Justice Anjana Prakash, is on record stating that 66% of the total number of persons booked under the UAPA were for conspiracy without any allegations of accompanying acts of violence. She also revealed that out of the total number of 386 cases being investigated by the NIA, 74 cases were for non-UAPA offences while 312 pertained to UAPA offences. 
She added that NIA has not been able to submit charge-sheets in 56% of these cases, meaning that the accused in these cases still remain in custody. These figures definitely point to an unhealthy practice of “governance by fear” which has no legitimate place in a democracy. 
The law, as it stands today, has many flaws and loopholes making it amenable to large scale abuse and misuse by some politicians and overzealous policemen. Things have come to such a pass that at a recent webinar on “Democracy, Dissent and Draconian Laws”, organised by the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms, four former Supreme Court judges – Justices Aftab Alam, Madan B Lokur, Gopala Gowda and Deepak Gupta – came down heavily on UAPA and sedition laws and the way they are being misused to suppress democratic dissent and curb fundamental rights. 
Justices Gopala Gowda and Deepak Gupta were of the view that since Section 43D(5) of the UAPA takes away the power of courts to grant bail and order a judicial review, the law is unconstitutional. All the former Supreme Court judges agreed that the UAPA should not remain in the statute book in its present form. We believe, like them, that such a draconian law has no place in a civilised society, particularly in a country claiming to be the world’s largest democracy. 
Participating in a session at the G-7 Summit in Cornwall, United Kingdom, held between  June, 11 and 13 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of democracy and freedom being part of the Indian ethos.  
If the Prime Minister is true to his word, his government should heed the call of legal luminaries and the ordinary public, appreciate that the UAPA in its present form poses a serious threat to the freedom of our citizens and to democracy and, after consulting legal experts and taking into account the views of Parliament, enact fresh legislation to replace the UAPA which, while addressing concerns regarding terrorism, safeguards the right to liberty of those exercising their fundamental right of free expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution of India. 
Satyamev Jayate
---- 
Click here for signatories

Comments

TRENDING

Vaccine nationalism? Covaxin isn't safe either, perhaps it's worse: Experts

By Rajiv Shah  I was a little awestruck: The news had already spread that Astrazeneca – whose Indian variant Covishield was delivered to nearly 80% of Indian vaccine recipients during the Covid-19 era – has been withdrawn by the manufacturers following the admission by its UK pharma giant that its Covid-19 vector-based vaccine in “rare” instances cause TTS, or “thrombocytopenia thrombosis syndrome”, which lead to the blood to clump and form clots. The vaccine reportedly led to at least 81 deaths in the UK.

'Scientifically flawed': 22 examples of the failure of vaccine passports

By Vratesh Srivastava*   Vaccine passports were introduced in late 2021 in a number of places across the world, with the primary objective of curtailing community spread and inducing "vaccine hesitant" people to get vaccinated, ostensibly to ensure herd immunity. The case for vaccine passports was scientifically flawed and ethically questionable.

'Misleading' ads: Are our celebrities and public figures acting responsibly?

By Deepika* It is imperative for celebrities and public figures to act responsibly while endorsing a consumer product, the Supreme Court said as it recently clamped down on misleading advertisements.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Magnetic, stunning, Protima Bedi 'exposed' malice of sexual repression in society

By Harsh Thakor*  Protima Bedi was born to a baniya businessman and a Bengali mother as Protima Gupta in Delhi in 1949. Her father was a small-time trader, who was thrown out of his family for marrying a dark Bengali women. The theme of her early life was to rebel against traditional bondage. It was extraordinary how Protima underwent a metamorphosis from a conventional convent-educated girl into a freak. On October 12th was her 75th birthday; earlier this year, on August 18th it was her 25th death anniversary.

Palm oil industry 'deceptively using geenwashing' to market products

By Athena*  Corporate hypocrisy is a masterclass in manipulation that mostly remains undetected by consumers and citizens. Companies often boast about their environmental and social responsibilities. Yet their actions betray these promises, creating a chasm between their public image and the grim on-the-ground reality. This duplicity and severely erodes public trust and undermines the strong foundations of our society.

US 'frustrated' with India’s discomfort: Maritime exercise in South China Sea

By Vijay Prashad*  In early April 2024, the navies of four countries -- Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and the United States -- held a maritime exercise in the South China Sea. Australia’s Warramunga, Japan’s Akebono, the Philippines’ Antonio Luna, and the United States’ Mobile worked together in these waters to strengthen their joint abilities and -- as they said in a joint statement  -- to “uphold the right to freedom of navigation and overflight and respect for maritime rights under international law.” 

No compensation to family, reluctance to file FIR: Manual scavengers' death

By Arun Khote, Sanjeev Kumar*  Recently, there have been four instances of horrifying deaths of sewer/septic tank workers in Uttar Pradesh. On 2 May, 2024, Shobran Yadav, 56, and his son Sushil Yadav, 28, died from suffocation while cleaning a sewer line in Lucknow’s Wazirganj area. In another incident on 3 May 2024, two workers Nooni Mandal, 36 and Kokan Mandal aka Tapan Mandal, 40 were killed while cleaning the septic tank in a house in Noida, Sector 26. The two workers were residents of Malda district of West Bengal and lived in the slum area of Noida Sector 9. 

India 'not keen' on legally binding global treaty to reduce plastic production

By Rajiv Shah  Even as offering lip-service to the United Nations Environment Agency (UNEA) for the need to curb plastic production, the Government of India appears reluctant in reducing the production of plastic. A senior participant at the UNEP’s fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4), which took place in Ottawa in April last week, told a plastics pollution seminar that India, along with China and Russia, did not want any legally binding agreement for curbing plastic pollution.

'Fake encounter': 12 Adivasis killed being dubbed Maoists, says FACAM

Counterview Desk   The civil rights network* Forum Against Corporatization and Militarization (FACAM), even as condemn what it has called "fake encounter" of 12 Adivasi villagers in Gangaloor, has taken strong exception to they being presented by the authorities as Maoists.