Repeal UAPA and Condemn the NIA Amendment Bill, 2019

As the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill 2019 (UAPA) was passed by the Lok Sabha on 24 July 2019, the future of both human rights protectors and protectees in BJP-led India is in severe crisis. The UAPA Bill in its present form is itself a draconian piece of legislature that empowers the state to completely bypass the process of prosecution, trial and conviction and places the onus of proving innocence on the accused individual. Since its enactment in 1967, the UAPA Bill vested unchecked powers in the police to circumvent due process that has been established to protect a citizen’s right to fair trial. In principle, the Bill is implemented in the form of preventive detention and abstract ideas like intentions, beliefs and thoughts of an individual are treated as criminal offences. This travesty of natural justice has not been overseen by one or two political parties but has been abused by different governments in the past five decades. A recent analysis of the NCRB data revealed that in 2015, 65 out of 76 cases in which trials were completed under UAPA resulted in acquittal or discharge. On average, 75 percent cases have ended in acquittal/discharge over three years ending in 2016. The poor conviction rate points to the intention of punishment by trial that the state intends to inflict on selfless dedicated human rights activists. The incarceration of grass root level activists working for the rights of the Adivasis to the incarceration of prominent human rights lawyers and noted academicians all point in the same direction. The provisions of the law makes it extremely difficult to get bail and the orchestrated vilification of the individuals facing trial under UAPA act as a two faced sword for the accused person.

This amendment passed in the Lok Sabha will additionally empower state officials to declare any individual a terrorist on mere suspicion of the state and police. The amendment will ensure that the investigative agency can seize the individual’s property without any court order, thus resulting in glaring violations of Article 14 and Article 21 of Indian constitution. While the original Bill already had the provision to arrest and convict persons associated with terrorist organizations and following the natural course of justice, any individual once convicted of terror charges can be jailed, the intention of the present government in power to individually label individuals as terrorist reeks of desperation. The labeling and stigmatization of individuals as terrorists even if the investigative agency do not have sufficient evidence to actually persecute and convict an individual points at glaring violation of the fundamental human rights enshrined in the constitution. The severe social consequences resulting from such branding is a conscious effort to instill fear in individuals fighting relentlessly for the justice of the most marginalized in the society. Such ostracization solely on the basis of intuition and fueled by motivated media trials provoked mass hysteria is akin to throwing a person to frenzied mobs to face extra-judicial punishments. While the whole country is witness to the labeling of all dissenting voices as anti-national by the BJP, the new amendments to the UAPA Bill will make it easier for the ruling party to tag any rebellious individual who is fighting against the economic and social antagonism in this unjust society. The latest proposal is a new addition to the tools to arm-twist political opponents of the present dispensation. The UAPA Bill in its present form and the intended modifications remind us of the Rowlatt Act implemented during the British colonial administration. This particular amendment in 2019 is working towards the blatant subversion of the Constitutional provision ensuring right to innocence until proven guilty. A task that should primarily be that of the judiciary has been snatched through the legislative process and brought into the ambit of the executive.

Further to this, the Rajya Sabha unanimously passed the National Investigation Agency (NIA) (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The bill, amending the NIA Act, 2008, mandates a national-level agency to conduct inquiries and prosecute offences listed under the scheduled offences, allows special courts to be created for the trial of scheduled offences and encourages the NIA to seize properties of suspects without waiting for the local police. While the NIA has been accused on numerous instances of targeting minorities, the present amendments infringe on the rights of the police in the states and severely challenge the federal structure of the country. The NIA Amendment bill once again indicates towards possible misuse of the probe agency for “political vendetta” and will result in more thousands of youth belonging to the oppressed communities (Adivasis, Muslims and Dalits) languishing in jail for several years. The NIA, which was justified in 2008 as a necessary infringement on federalism for a limited purpose, is now becoming a larger encroachment on the limited “federalism”. The need of making the existing laws further stringent is even greater threat to civil liberties by weakening the few remaining protections in the criminal justice system. The amendments will give the security forces carte blanche to commit grave violations.

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