Passage of Amendments to UAPA: Further Erosion of Constitutional Rights

The pushing through of the amendments to Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in the Rajya Sabha, despite protests and calls for further discussion and deferment, indicates the consensus between Congress and BJP on the issue of civil rights. The passage of the amendments, which now bring economic offences under terrorism, and broaden the definition of person to an extent that will criminalize all forms of associations, will provide sweeping powers to the police and security agencies, and create a regime of suspicion
.
False Claims of the Government:
Responding to the debate in the RS, Minister of State for Home stated that, “The Act does not give sweeping powers to the police and there are checks and balances that will prevent misuse of the Act.” He further assured the House that the law was “religion neutral” and would not target any particular community.

This is patently false.

Sweeping Powers to the Police:
The broad definition of person (“an association of persons or a body of individuals, whether incorporated or not”) will actually allow the police to detain and arrest anybody they deem to be an association.

Again, the clause that criminalizes the raising of funds “from a legitimate or illegitimate source… knowing that such funds are likely to be used …by a terrorist organization”. . .“notwithstanding whether such funds were actually used or not used” for the commission of a terrorist act will be open for misuse. The police can now ‘legitimately’ arrest people who have raised monies or sent remittances home, on the merest suspicion that they had subjective knowledge that it might be used for terrorist activities.

Such subjective knowledge, while may be difficult to prove in the courts of law, will not deter police from arresting people.

Checks and Balances:
The simple truth is that there are no checks and balances to blunt the draconian edge of this law. The Home Ministry had conceded as much to the Standing Committee when it said that an innocent person “can produce evidence to show that he is not associated.”

Yes of course. One always has the option of trying to prove one's innocence, but that’s not called a safeguard.

Neutrality of Terror Laws:
The history of anti-terror laws belies this naïve claim. We have seen how POTA and TADA have been used extensively to target minorities (among others). Thousands, almost all Sikhs, were detained in Punjab during the TADA years, and the state of Gujarat invoked POTA against 280 people, 279 of who were Muslims. The last few years have seen UAPA being used extensively against Muslim men on charges of being members of banned SIMI; and on hundreds of tribals and democratic rights and cultural activists in the name of Maoism. It is a sign of times to come that the House defeated the amendment moved by a Left MP to keep trade unions out of the purview of the UAPA. The signal is clear: beware, all you, who speak for rights. The source of your funds could be investigated under terror laws.

The amendments push us back to the dark days of TADA and POTA, contrary to what the government may have claimed in the Rajya Sabha yesterday. The difference though is that while POTA and TADA were special or extraordinary laws, with sunset clauses, requiring extensions after their period of operation lapsed; UAPA has absorbed the draconian provisions while masquerading as an ordinary law with an indefinite period of operation.

Released by Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association

21st December 2012

Tags: 
Press Statements