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The Curious Case of UAPA

Whenever we think of the Emergency we remember one of the worst aspects of it, curbing of basic civil liberties. Those of free speech, freedom of the press, freedom of movement, etc. A famous slogan which arose in almost a satirical manner to the Emergency was, "Na Appeal, Na Daleel, Na Vakeel". It said you held no ground to argue against such allegations, there was no appeal you could make and neither was there a provision which allowed you to have a lawyer. Similarities can be seen with the amendment to the UAPA act, this new addition allows the Central Government alongside the NIA to designate an individual as a terrorist.

What Is UAPA?

The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 was enacted to penalize certain activities which harm the sovereignty and integrity of the country. It falls within the category of “anti-terrorism laws” (such as those of POTA) and has often been remarked to be one of the most dangerous laws in the country. This is mainly due to the wide powers that it grants to the Government and the various investigation agencies without any significant constitutional safeguards. Many would say that the Government could not abuse it or misuse the Act but its intentional ambiguity creates a passage which allows the government to abuse it. The Act allows the Government to detain an organisation/individual if they aid/ abet activities which proliferate terror. 

What was it before?

The act pre this amendment focused mostly upon organisations which indulged in terrorist activities and which proliferated terror since this was only encompassing organisations there were proper hearings before anyone could be booked under this act. When it was first enacted, the UAPA exclusively dealt with offences related to unlawful activities. It empowered the government to declare certain associations ”unlawful”, and broadly defined “unlawful” to include acts intended to disrupt the country’s sovereignty, cause disaffection against India, among other things (things which would prove to be a threat to national security). The Act had some safeguards—the government had to specify grounds for its ban, set up a tribunal of a high court judge to determine sufficient cause for the ban, and publish the Tribunal judgment in the gazette. The entire idea of the act was to curb organisations flagged for potential terror activities provided the government had enough evidence to curb its claim, it also solely focused on organisations.

What is it now?

The act which has now seen a recent amendment includes anyone who may:

(i) commits or participates in acts of terrorism,

(ii) prepares for terrorism,

(iii) promotes terrorism, or

(iv) is otherwise involved in terrorism.

to be punished under the act, this also extends to organisations.

A major justification for adding individuals to the act was that when organisations fail its members may start a new one with similar motives and ideas.

The reasons to support it:

  1. The proliferation of "urban Maoism" will be quickly curbed before it can cause any damage.

  2. Suspected terrorists can be quickly detained before they can cause any substantive damage.

  3. Not only Organisations but individuals too can be flagged for such activities and the gazette will display their names causing awareness between the masses.

  4. Actions will be quick without delay which would safeguard national security.

The reasons to oppose it:

  1.  The terms of deeming someone a terrorist is so vague that the government could book anyone they want, and detain them for at least a 100 days due to the process of making appeals and getting them accepted.

  2. The law allows the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to go to any state without taking permission from state police concerned for checking anti-terror activities.

  3. When criminals/ people in conflict with the law are detained, they are at the least given security by the means of locking them up in jails, but if put up as a terrorist they might be attacked by a mob, on the same lines it refutes the intrinsic right to reputation under the right to life with dignity mentioned in the constitution. 

  4. The UAPA since its inception has had claims of it being faulty as it comes into conflict with constitutional values, these have been paraded by most critics.


The UAPA amendment has faced the heat by both those who hold an affinity for it and its critics, both sides have extremely strong points but is it an act which violates the inherent values of the constitution. The curious case is why hasn't the answer seen the light of day yet.

Till Next Time,

~Aadi Sardesai


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