What is UAPA? Is it a modern-day Rowlatt act?

The year was 1919, some local farmers of Punjab had gathered in the Jalliawala Bagh to celebrate the Indian festival of Baisakhi, and peacefully protest the arrest and deportation of two national leaders, Satyapal and Saifuddin Kitchlew.
Dr. Satyapal and Saifuddin Kitchlew were two important leaders of congress protesting the passing of the Rowlatt act in March of 1919. They were arrested and taken secretly to Dharamsala. Later that day, General Reginald Dyer ordered troops of the British Indian Army to fire their rifles into the crowd of unarmed protesters, killing at least 379 people and injuring over 1,200 other people.

Similarities between Rowlatt & UAPA?

The Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919, popularly known as the Rowlatt Act, was a legislative council act passed by the Imperial Legislative Council in Delhi on 18 March 1919, indefinitely extending the emergency measures of preventive indefinite detention, incarceration without trial and judicial review. In comparison to the Rowlatt Act, UAPA which was amended in 2019, carries similar principles. The British government in India passed the Rowlatt Act to give powers to the police to arrest any person without any reason or charges. The purpose of the Act was to curb the growing nationalist upsurge in the country. Similarly, In July 2019 the ambit of UAPA was further expanded. It was amended allowing the government to designate an individual as a terrorist without trial. Earlier it was allowed only in the case of organisations.

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History

Many national security laws like TADA, POTA, UAPA, AFSPA were passed by the successive governments in the past.
UAPA was brought in 1967 by the Congress government after getting recommendations from the national integration council. It would put reasonable restrictions on the three Fundamental rights of 1. Freedom of speech and expression, 2. Right to Assemble, 3. Right to form associations & Unions. The law would be forced by the NIA.

For prosecution under section 13 of the UAPA, the permission of the Ministry of Home Affairs(MHA) is required. However, for prosecution under sections 16,17 and 18, the permission of the respective State government is required.
Uder Article 25, the act permits the NIA to seize property it considers to be acquired of terrorist activities, with the assent of the Director General of Police (DGP) of the cocered State. Notwithstanding, it is possile for the NIA official to acquire the assent of the DGP of the NIA hence bypassing the State DGP. Police typically has 60 to 90 days to examine a case and present a chargesheet. After which the accused may get default bail. Nonetheless, under the UAPA, this pre-chargesheet time is stretched out to 180 days. Further, typical bail rules don’t apply to the accused under 43(d)5 of the UAPA. This can further be stretched for a longer time.

Criticism

Between 2016 to 2018, 3005 cases were registered under UAPA and 3,974 have been arrested. Most notably a human rights activist Arun Ferreira. He was arrested in 2007 ad acquitted in 2012 but then again arrested in 2018. Another one is Gaur Chakraborty He spent 7 years in prison during trial only to be acquitted of all charges. After the 2019 amendment, there are no provisions to prevent misuse. Specifically, the power to designate an individual as a terrorist before being proven guilty by trial, was criticised. Critics of the UAPA consider the definitions of “terrorist”, “like to threaten” and “likely to strike terror” to be very broad and open to misuse by the police as the burden of proof of innocence is on the accused.

The way the UAPA is being used by the current regime shows that we need to repeal the legislation instead of diluting it. In the Bhima Koregaon cases in Maharashtra, all the accused are being charged as a terrorist, irrespective of whether that person has anything to do with terrorist activities. In the North-East Delhi Riot cases, victims are being charged under UAPA just because they were raising their voice through peaceful protests in a non-violent manner. Even the Journalists who reported the Hathras Rape incident are being charged with UAPA.

Comment your views.

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