From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much
Mains level : Paper 2- Issues with UAPA 1967
Recent judgements involving UAPA highlights the issues with certain provisions resulting in long years of undertrial imprisonment.
In the past week, three seminal judgments involving the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA) have been delivered. While these judgments are welcome developments, they also remind us that thousands continue to languish under the UAPA regime.
Issues with the provisions of UAPA
- Originally enacted in 1967, the UAPA was amended to be modelled as an anti-terror law in 2004 and 2008.
- The period of detention is increased, enlarging the period of custody prior to which default bail cannot be granted.
- Regular bail is subject to the satisfaction of the judge that no prima facie case exists.
- Bail apart, the dilatory trial procedures ensure lengthy periods of pre-trial incarceration for the accused who are presumed guilty of heinous terror crimes.
NCRB data reveal long years of undertrial imprisonment
- As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, a total of 4,231 FIRs were filed under various sections of the UAPA between 2016 and 2019.
- While the number of acquittals is low, the real picture emerges in the pendency rates.
- The pendency rate at the level of police investigation is very high, at an average of 83 per cent.
- This denotes that chargesheets are filed by the police on an average in about 17 per cent of the total cases taken up for investigation.
- The rate of pendency at the level of trial is at an average of 95.5 per cent.
- This indicates that trials are completed every year in less than 5 per cent cases.
What did the courts say in various judgements?
- The Supreme Court, in Union of India v K A Najeeb, held that despite restrictions on bail under the UAPA, constitutional courts can still grant bail on the grounds that the fundamental rights of the accused have been violated.
- In Asif Iqbal Tanha v State of NCT of Delhi, the Delhi High Court took this reasoning a step further, holding that it would not be desirable for courts to wait till the accused’s rights to a speedy trial are entirely vitiated before they are set at liberty.
- Courts should exercise foresight, and in cases with hundreds of prosecution witnesses where a trial will not see a conclusion for years to come, courts should apply the principles laid down in Najeeb.
- Even within the constraints of the UAPA, much can be achieved if a responsive and independent judiciary follows the basic principles of natural justice and due process.
- But access to the judiciary remains limited for most of the thousands incarcerated under this widely-used law.
The governments need to consider the issue of pendency of cases under UAPA and take steps to address the issues by either repealing certain provisions or ensuring speedy trials.