SC notice to Centre on PIL against amendments in UAPA

A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Ashok Bhushan sought a response from the Centre on a PIL filed by Sajal Awasthi. (PTI Photo)

The Supreme Court on Friday issued a notice to the Union government on a plea challenging the validity of turning the amendment into law for declaring an individual as a terrorist, on the contention that it imposed indirect restrictions on dissent and violated fundamental rights of citizens.

A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Ashok Bhushan sought a response from the Centre on a PIL filed by Sajal Awasthi.

Within days of the 2019 amendments to Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act coming into effect, Awasthi a Delhi resident had last month approached the court contending that the provision to designate an individual as a terrorist was an encroachment upon fundamental rights of citizens.

Through his PIL, Awasthi sought a declaration from the top court that the amendment act was unconstitutional and violative of fundamental rights as enshrined under Article 14 (equality), 19 (freedom of speech and expression) and 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Constitution.

“The UAPA, 2019 empowers the government, under the garb of curbing terrorism, to impose an indirect restriction on the right to dissent which is detrimental for our developing democratic society,” he claimed.

Parliament had on August 2 passed the Unlawful Activities Prevention (Amendment) Act, 2019 amid Opposition's concerns that the bill could be misused and courts could strike it down as it violated the liberty of an individual.

The amendments that empowered the Centre to designate individuals as terrorists came into effect from August 14 with the government issuing a notification.

The petitioner contended conferring such “discretionary, unfettered and unbound powers” upon the central government was an antithesis to Article 14 of the Constitution.

“Further, right to reputation is an intrinsic part of fundamental right to life with dignity under Article 21 and terming/tagging an individual as terrorist even before the commencement of trial or any application of judicial mind over it, does not amount to following of 'procedure established by law',” the petition stated.

He said as “blanket and unregulated power” has been given under Section 35 and 36 of the UAPA, 2019 to designate individuals as terrorists.

Besides, the amendments also empowered Director General of National Investigation Agency (NIA) to grant approval for seizure or attachment of property when the case was investigated by it.

It also empowered an Inspector of NIA to investigate the offences. Earlier, only an officer of the rank of DySP or above could investigate NIA cases.

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