Context- The Delhi Police has sealed the office of news portal NewsClick, by invoking the UAPA
Act, alleging it received money for pro-China propaganda.
The UAPA Act
- UAPA presents an alternate criminal law framework where the general principles of
criminal law are reversed. By relaxing timelines for the state to file chargesheets and its
stringent conditions for bail, the UAPA gives the state more powers compared with the
Indian Penal Code (IPC).
- Enacted: 1967
- Mandate: It is aimed at “more effective prevention of certain unlawful activities of
individuals and associations for dealing with terrorist activities”.
- Unlawful activity: Unlawful activity means any conduct which constitutes a crime or
which contravenes any law whether such conduct occurred before or after the
commencement of this Act and whether such conduct occurred in the Republic or
- Terrorist act: Section 15 of the Act defines “terrorist act” and is punishable with
imprisonment for a term of at least five years to life.
Power to central government
- The Act assigns absolute power to the central government, by way of which if the Centre
deems an activity as unlawful then it may, by way of an Official Gazette, declare it so.
Applicability: The provisions of this Act apply also to—
(a) Citizens of India outside India;
(b) Persons in the service of the Government, wherever they may be; and
(c) persons on ships and aircrafts, registered in India, wherever they may be.
Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) Amendment Act 2019
o The Act empowers the government to designate individuals as terrorists.
o Under the Act, the central government may designate an organisation as a
terrorist organisation if it:
(i) Commits or participates in acts of terrorism,
(ii) Prepares for terrorism,
(iii) Promotes terrorism, or
(iv) Is otherwise involved in terrorism.
- Approval for seizure of property by NIA: Under the Act, an investigating officer is
required to obtain the prior approval of the Director General of Police to seize properties
that may be connected with terrorism.
- The Act defines terrorist acts to include acts committed within the scope
of any of the treaties listed in a schedule to the Act.
- The Schedule lists nine treaties, including the Convention for the Suppression of
Terrorist Bombings (1997), the Convention against Taking of Hostages (1979) and
the International Convention for Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005).
Issues with UAPA
- Low conviction: According to a source, in 2018-20, as many as 4,690 people were
arrested under the UAPA but only 3% were convicted.
- Sharp Rise in Use: This caution is significant given the sharp surge in the state’s use of
this provision in a sweeping range of alleged offences – against tribals in Chhattisgarh,
those using social media through proxy servers in Jammu and Kashmir; and journalists in
Manipur among others.
- Stringent Provision of bail: The standard for bail under the UAPA is that it cannot be
granted unless the court is of the view that the accused is innocent of the alleged
- It means that the onus of proof of innocence for the purpose of obtaining bail is
effectively reversed. It is for the accused to show that he is innocent.
- Highly Discretionary: It confers upon the government broad discretionary powers and
also authorizes the creation of special courts with the ability to use secret witnesses and
to hold closed-door hearings.
- Ignoring Fundamental Rights: It can simply be used to bypass fundamental rights and
procedures. For instance, those arrested under UAPA can be incarcerated up to 180 days
without a charge sheet being filed.
- It thus directly violates Article 21 of the constitution.
Related Supreme Court Rulings
- In 2019, the SC defined prima facie narrowly to mean that the courts must not analyse
evidence or circumstances, but look at the “totality of the case” presented by the state.
- In NIA v Zahoor Ahmed Watali, the SC read the bail provisions strictly, holding that
courts must only be satisfied that a prima facie case can be made out to deny bail, and
not consider the merit or the admissibility of the evidence.
- The Act has indeed been the center of several debates because of its abusive nature and
lack of a proper mechanism for backup.
- It is up to the state, judiciary, civil society to balance constitutional freedom and the
imperative of anti-terror pursuits.