Important Judgements In News

Taking note of the Delhi High Court’s judgment on ‘defining terrorism’


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UAPA

Mains level : Paper 2- Misuse of anti-terror laws

The recent Delhi High Court order granting bail to the student activists charged with the UAPA has brought into focus the issue of misuse of anti-terror laws by the policy. The article deals with this issue.

Misuse of anti-terror laws

  • In the period 2015-2019, as many as 7,840 persons were arrested under the UAPA (Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act) 1967 but only 155 were convicted by the trial courts.
  • Under TADA, till 1994, though 67,000 people were detained, just 725 were convicted in spite of confessions made to police officers being made admissible.
  • In Kartar Singh (1994), the Supreme Court of India had observed that in many cases, the prosecution had unjustifiably invoked provisions of TADA.
  • It added that such an invocation of TADA was ‘nothing but the sheer misuse and abuse of the Act by the police’.

 The definition of terrorism

  • There is no universal definition of the term ‘terrorism’ either in India or at the international level.
  •  Accordingly, neither TADA nor UAPA has a definition of the crucial terms ‘terror’ and ‘terrorism’.
  • Section 15 of UAPA merely defines a terrorist act in extremely wide and vague words: ‘as any act with intent to threaten or likely to threaten the unity, integrity, security, or sovereignty of India or with intent to strike terror or likely to strike terror in the people….’.
  • In Yaqoob Abdul Razzak Memon (2013), the Supreme Court said that terrorist acts can range from threats to actual assassinations, kidnappings, airline hijacking, car bombs, explosions, mailing of dangerous materials, use of chemical, biological, nuclear weapons etc.
  • In Hitendra Vishnu Thakur (1994), the Supreme Court had defined terrorism as the ‘use of violence when its most important result is not merely the physical and mental damage of the victim but the prolonged psychological effect it produces … on the society as a whole’.
  • In Kartar Singh (1994), the Supreme Court held that a mere disturbance of public order that disturbs even the tempo of the life of community of any particular locality is not a terrorist act.
  • By this interpretation, the CAA protests in a few localities of Delhi cannot be termed as terrorist activity.
  • In the PUCL judgment (2003), the Supreme Court included within its meaning amongst other things the ‘razing of constitutional principles that we hold dear’, ‘tearing apart of the secular fabric’ and ‘promotion of prejudice and bigotry.
  • Accordingly, in the CAA protest case the Delhi High Court concluded that since the definition of a ‘terrorist act’ in UAPA is wide and somewhat vague, it cannot be casually applied to ordinary conventional crimes.
  • The Delhi High Court said that the act of the accused must reflect the essential character of terrorism.

Distinction between ‘law and order’, ‘public order’ and ‘security of state’

  • In Ram Manohar Lohia (1966), the Supreme Court explained the distinction between the above three terms.
  • Law and order represents the largest circle within which is the next circle representing ‘public order’, and the smallest circle represents the ‘security of state’.
  • Accordingly, an act may affect ‘law and order’ but not ‘public order’.
  • Similarly, an act may adversely affect ‘public order’ but not the ‘security of state.’
  • In most UAPA cases, the police have failed to understand these distinctions and unnecessarily clamped UAPA charges for simple violations of law and order.


Radicalisation generally succeeds only with those who have been subjected to real or perceived injustices. Let us remove injustice to combat terrorism. The creation of a truly just, egalitarian and non-oppressive society would be far more effective in combating terrorism.

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