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UAPA is draconian, it must go

The Supreme Court last week decided to review the sedition law, which also has been widely and grossly misused by governments
Last Updated : 17 August 2021, 08:16 IST

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Justice D Y Chandrachud’s caution against the pervasive misuse of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act has again drawn attention to the draconian law, soon after Father Stan Swamy, who was charged under it, died in custody without getting bail. Justice Chandrachud was speaking at a public function last week, but his words, along with some orders and pronouncements made by the higher courts and similar observations from other judges, reflect a rising concern over the use of draconian laws to curb citizens’ rights. The Supreme Court last week decided to review the sedition law, which also has been widely and grossly misused by governments. The judge’s observations and some decisions and comments made by courts in some UAPA cases make a case for a review of the UAPA, as in the case of the sedition law.

Justice Chandrachud specifically said that criminal law, including anti-terror legislations like the UAPA, “should not be misused for quelling dissent or harassment of citizens.’’ He quoted from his judgement granting bail to journalist Arnab Goswami last year which said that “deprivation of liberty even for a single day is one day too many,” and that “we must always be mindful of the deeper systemic implications of our decisions.” Under the UAPA, bail is extremely difficult, almost impossible, to get as Stan Swamy and many others found out. There are a number of people who are in jail under the law, including 14 in the case under which Stan Swamy was charged. Some detainees, like Assam MLA Akhil Gogoi, and some student activists managed to get bail. But these are exceptions, and jail is the normal rule in all UAPA cases.

Under the UAPA, there is a longer period for investigation of the case and an accused is eligible to apply for bail only after six months. No bail is given unless the court decides that there is no prima facie case, but there is no assessment of evidence at the bail stage to decide this. The right to a speedy trial is also violated. The Supreme Court has noted this and has said that the bar against bail would melt down if there is no speedy trial. The Delhi High Court recently raised the question of how long a trial under the UAPA could be. This is relevant because there are many who have been acquitted after they spent many years in jail. All this calls for a relook not only at the bail provisions of the UAPA but at the law itself as such. Justice Chandrachud’s words are reassuring in that respect.

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Published 21 July 2021, 19:58 IST

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