Explained: UAPA

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The government of Jammu and Kashmir, on 14 February 2020, issued an order banning all social media sites, to curb the propagation of “false information/rumours” that would lead to a negative effect on the “social stability”. The police authorities of the state of Jammu and Kashmir invoked the rigid Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in order to register a case against those various people who were consistently using the social media sites through proxy servers by getting past Internet firewalls, which was against the government orders. Virtual Private Networks (VPN), allow the users to hide their location while accessing the internet and leads to a more secured browsing.

Significance of this development:

This step was undertaken by the government in order to ensure avoidance of the misuse of social media. The formal statement issued by the Cyber Police Station Kashmir Zone Srinagar reported that there was a constant misuse of social media for the propagation of secessionist ideologies and unlawful activities by miscreants.

They even claimed that some alleged incriminating material was found in the course of the investigation. An appeal to avoid the usage of social media via VPN was made by the IGP Kashmir Shri Vijay Kumar to the general public. The major significance of this step taken by the Jammu and Kashmir authorities was the prevention of any unlawful activity that might challenge the integrity, unity and security of India.

What is UAPA?

UAPA or Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act is an Indian legislative act which has the aim of effectively preventing the unlawful activities associations in India. Any activity which stands in contradiction with the security, integrity, sovereignty and unity of India can fall under the purview of this act.

As per the 2004 amendment, Section 2(o) defines unlawful activity as “any action taken by an individual or association (whether by committing an act or by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or otherwise), (i) which is intended, or supports any claim to bring about, on any ground whatsoever, the cession of a part of the territory of India or the secession of a part of the territory of India from the Union, or which incites any individual or group of individuals to bring about such secession; or (ii) which disclaims, questions, disrupts or is intended to disrupt the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India; or (iii) which causes or is in- tended to cause disaffection against India.”

A committee was appointed by the National Integration Council in order to look into the provision of reasonable restrictions in the same. The UAPA can be traced back to the times of colonial era. The Criminal Law Amendment Act, in the year 1908, first used the term “unlawful association” to criminalize the Indian national movement. However, the same kind of law got carried forward to the present.

Why was the act introduced?

The stringent provisions of UAPA are made with an underlying purpose. If the investigating agency comes across any material which shows commission of offence dealt with by these provisions, it is apparent that the course prescribed therein must be allowed. This Act was introduced to secure and preserve the security, sovereignty, unity and integrity of India by preventing any kind of unlawful activities. It penalizes any such activity which might pose a threat to the peace and harmony in India. The aim of this Act is to prevent the commission of any such activities which can create any kind of problem in the stable existence and well-being of the citizens.  

Salient features:

  1. The UAPA or the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act aims to effectively ensure the prevention of any activities or association which can be considered unlawful in nature in India and might pose as a threat to the national welfare.
  2. The primary objective of this Act is to ensure the availability of powers to the government for dealing with activities which are directed against the unity, integrity and sovereignty of India.
  3. The Act also provides for the penalties which can be imposed upon any person found to be involved in any unlawful activity or participation in unlawful associations.
  4. The Act considers it to be a commitment of a crime to support any secessionist movement, in any manner possible be it direct or tacit, or to support any claim/claims made by any foreign power regarding any territory to what India claims as its territory.
  5. UAPA aims to eradicate any kind of unlawful or illegal element that might exist in the society or that might affect the stability of any region. It is based upon the principle of creating a state filled with unity and integrity. 
  6. The Act also is an attempt to prevent the infiltration of any violent element in the society. It keeps a check on the influx of violent components and its nature in the society. 

Criticism of UAPA:

The critics of UAPA consider it a draconian law which encroaches upon an individual’s basic human rights. They opine that this law is designed to give the state limitless power to choose the group, the section, and the political opinion that it wishes to describe as criminal and to attack it with legislated violence. They find it a grave violation of the fundamental rights of citizens of Indian enshrined in the Constitution. Moreover, it infringes the provisions in the criminal justice system which means to safeguard the innocent citizens.

They consider this law as a tool that can be used by the government to label any organization as unlawful and terrorist in nature on its own terms. As a matter of fact, many critics have often described this Act as an instrument to legalize their brutality. It has been referred to as a means to fulfill the government’s extremist form of action. This law can be very easily misused by the government as well. This Act provides a very vague definition of “terrorist acts” and “unlawful activities” and hence makes it application a subject to the government’s discretion.

Conclusion:

The UAPA or the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act was introduced to combat the issues of unlawful activities and terrorist activities. This Act is based on the lines of prevention of any such act/acts which might prove to be detrimental to the stability of India as a nation. This Act not only criminalizes the fundamental right to association but also dilutes the distinction between political dissent and criminal activity by criminalizing dissident voices and acts.

The UAPA is an Act that has been propounded to secure and preserve the security, sovereignty, unity and integrity of India by preventing any kind of unlawful activities. However, this law is often criticized for being against the principles of democracy and equality. It is considered to be a law based upon the discretion of the government. It can be fettered by the whims and fancies of the government.

Therefore, the law must be revisited; the Centre must establish a secure regulatory mechanism, by implementing checks and balances at every stage of function of the UAPA. This would significantly reduce the misuse and arbitrary implementation of the Act.

Author: Archie Anant from Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab.

Editor: Anna Jose Kallivayalil from NLU, Delhi.

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