On August 2, the Parliament passed the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2019. On August 8th, 2019, it was quickly approved by the President. The Amendment Act, which was passed by Parliament, resulted in a number of revisions to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 1967. The primary modification was done to Section 35 of the Act. The most recent change to the law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2019 (UAPA 2019), allows the Union Government to label individuals as terrorists without following due process. The UAPA is also referred to as the Anti-Terrorism Act. This amendment has received much criticism as it allowed the government to classify individuals as terrorists if the government suspects they are engaging in terrorism. When a person is so classified, their name is included in Schedule 4 of the statute. Prior to the amendment, only organizations could be classified as terrorist organizations. The current challenge to the 2019 Amendment Act is merely in its earliest stages, with the State yet to file its response. Nonetheless, due to the nature of the challenge and previous complaints of the legislation as excessive, the situation is poised to provide an excellent testing ground for the scope of the government’s discretion in anti-terror legislation.
The amendment resulted in sections 35 and 36 of Chapter VI of the Act being broadened – the term “terrorist” to include individuals. It also empowers the DG of the NIA to seize property derived from terrorist funds under Section 25 and personnel with the level of inspector and higher to investigate crimes under Section 43 of the UAPA. The Central Government also establishes a Review Committee to denote the individual who has been designated as a terrorist, effectively eliminating any institutional avenue for judicial review.
CHALLENGES TO THE AMENDMENT
The principal objections to the Amendment are based on Section 35, which, in addition to categorizing organizations as terrorist organizations, expanded the power to encompass the designation of individuals as terrorists. Two petitions were filed before the supreme court regarding the constitutional validity – Sajal Awasthi filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court against the UAPA, 2019, claiming that it is unconstitutional since it infringes basic fundamental rights. Another petition, filed by the Association for the Protection of Civil Rights (APCR), argued that the new Section 35 enables the Centre to classify an individual as a terrorist and include his individuality in Schedule 4 of the Act, whereas previously only organizations could be designated as terrorist organizations. The fundamental point of disagreement for both petitioners is that an individual can be classified as a terrorist with no judicial assessment and even before a lawsuit is filed, which is unreasonable. They claimed that the Amendment Act violated the rights to life (Article 21), free speech (Article 19), and equality guaranteed by the Constitution (Article 14). Opposers of the Amendment contend that it provides the executive arbitrary authority and infringes an individual’s right to due process, right to protest, and right to dignity. The Court marked these petitions, and on September 7, 2019, it sent notice to the Government. Sections 35 and 36, according to the petitioners, should be repealed and declared illegal. Based on the Awasthi lawsuit, the provision’s absence of defined standards for labelling someone a terrorist violates their right to equality. As a result, the clause is manifestly arbitrary. A law is clearly capricious and inconsistent with equality right if it is established without a proper guiding foundation and is exorbitant or disproportionate in character, according to the concept of obvious arbitrariness. Awasthi further claims that the amendment infringes the right to dissent, which is a component of free speech. They highlighted the judgements in Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras (1950) and Maqbool Fida Hussain v. Rajkumar Pandey (1950) to emphasize the importance of free expression and the accompanying freedom to disagree (2008). The grounds for the petition are as follows:
- There is an absence of substantive and procedural fair trials – There is an absence of substantive and procedural fair trials. section 35 authorizes the government to label any individual as a terrorist under the Fourth Schedule of the UAPA. Without an elaborate process, the administration can proclaim and inform based on mere belief. There is no requirement for a fair hearing. The basis for declaring someone a terrorist is imprecise and ambiguous: would it be the filing of an FIR or a trial court conviction? While S. 36 allows an individual who has been designated as a terrorist to file an appeal with the government, its implementation is problematic. A person is not notified of the reason for his or her arrest. At the level of appeal, there isn’t any provision for an oral hearing. In the case of Puttaswamy v Union of India (2017), it was reaffirmed that only through due process of law could the right to life and personal liberty be restricted. Sections 35 and 36 violate the due process requirement.
- The law is irrational and infringes on equality – The challenging part lacks safeguards against the considerable potential for discretionary power. While the method for designating an organization as a terrorist is robust, it is inappropriate for an individual. The handling of a person is disproportionate and inappropriate because there is no clear aim underlying the differentiation between an organization and an individual. This does not meet Article 14’s ‘reasonable classification’ criteria. Furthermore, the denial of a fair hearing violated the natural justice concept of audi alteram partem, or the fair hearing rule. Invoking the case of Union of India v Tulsiram Patel (1985), the petition claims that a violation of natural justice leads to arbitrariness and thus violates Article 14. The petition also mentioned People’s Union for Civil Liberties v Union of India (2004). The Court concluded that violating human rights in the fight against terrorism is counterproductive.
- Indirect Infringement to Free Speech – According to Maqbool Fida Hussain v. Rajkumar Pandey, dissent is an essential component of the right to free expression under Article 19(1)(a) (2008). Under the pretence of banning terrorism, the challenged Sections are intended to restrict critical expression against the government. The change contradicts the international conventions approved by India. The Amendment specifically violates legal norms under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Counterterrorism.
The Amendment was already widely criticized since it gives the Union Government vast and indefinite authority to arrest anyone without following necessary procedures. The UAPA amendment empowers the government to violate a person’s basic rights to free speech, integrity, dissent, and reputation. The burden of evidence to counter the charges is on the individual, not just the state, and anyone can be branded a terrorist at the discretion of the government. Articles 14, 19(1)(a), and 21 of the Constitution are violated by the 2019 Act changes, and the legislature has no jurisdiction to take away a citizen’s fundamental rights because they are a fundamental component of the Constitution. Certain provisions of the recently amended UAPA, 2019, are irreconcilable with the legal structure of the country. To fight terrorism, this Act empowers the government to impose unofficial limitations on the right to free expression; yet these measures have unintended implications that limit the circulation of ideas within society. As a consequence of this law, countless journalists are placed on trial and required to withdraw their opinions on certain sensitive topics merely because the government considers that doing so will incite hatred, without giving any proof to support this claim. The most serious consequences can be witnessed in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. After Article 370 was repealed, the government gained control over the state. Many residents, especially reporters, are being tried under UAPA and are being denied the right to free expression guaranteed by Article 19(1) of the Constitution. Furthermore, the Amendment contradicts the mandate of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The preceding arguments have demonstrated how the amendment jeopardizes its citizens’ fundamental rights and threatens the very existence of opposition. When such heinous legislation breaches and deprives citizens’ rights, it is the Supreme Court’s responsibility to intervene and re-establish faith in democracy. This Amendment shows the goal of laws enacted by colonial rule to stifle various liberation movements under the guise of maintaining public order.
- K.S. Puttaswamy and Anr. vs. Union of India, (2017) 10 SCC 1 (India).
- Union Of India and Another vs Tulsiram Patel and Others, 1985 AIR 1416 (India).
This article is written by Shraddha Vemula, a second-year B.B.A. LLB Student at Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad.