Supreme Court must give a relook at the abuse of UAPA by the ruling regime

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By: Arun Srivastava

The euphoria over the release of the three student activists after one year of their stay in Tihar jail is being reassessed just within 24 hours of granting their bail, after the Supreme Court stating on June 18 that the manner in which the HC had interpreted the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act “will probably require examination” by the top court and the HC order will not be treated as a precedent and shall not be relied upon by anyone before any court. The three students who were feeling acquitted and free have suddenly been made to realise that they continue to be suspects in the eyes of the law.

The apex court might be correct in its observation but the possibility of this being misused by the Delhi police for arresting the three student activists Asif Tanha, Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita again cannot be outright ruled out. Though the High Court’s order was seen as a welcome effort “to prevent our civil liberties from being swallowed up by the black hole of state power”, a desperate Delhi police which from the beginning has been creating obstacles in their path of release armed with the observation of the apex court would implicate them fresh.

The SC said it is not interfering with the bail granted to the activists “at this stage”. It obviously implied that it can do in the future if the need arises. This observation of the apex court simply provided strength to the argument of the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that the HC judgment had turned the UAPA and the Constitution on its head. The statement of the court ‘Students can stay out of jail for now’ is not assuring. Students’ bail fine, but HC views on terror law needs scrutiny, says Supreme Court. They would continue to be on tenterhook. They will be denied of their right to lead a free life. They will always be scared of the Delhi office; when it would descend at their doors. It is significant that the three students have also been served notices by the Supreme Court. “It is clarified that release of the respondents (Narwal, Kalita, and Tanha) on bail is not interfered with at this stage,” the bench said.

The release of the three activists has hurt the ego of the Delhi police and it is evident in their relentless move to get their bail cancelled. It was part of their efforts that they argued before the Supreme Court that the order of the HC has weakened the impact of the UAPA. In fact, the HC had pointed out that the definition of “terrorism” in Section 15 of the UAPA is vague, and has been used as a licence to classify all kinds of infractions as a terrorist. This order will put more spotlight on how individuals are charged under the provisions of the UAPA.

No doubt the High Court devoted 100 pages to write its order, the fact remains that it has exposed the design of the Delhi police to keep any social activists inside the jail purely with the motto to ruin his or her life. This is certainly an act of trampling with the spirit of delivering justice. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the student activists, was absolutely right in saying that no doubt the apex court should consider the ramifications and interpretation of the UAPA so that there is a judgement on the issue from the top court.

It is nice that Supreme Court has expressed the view to re-examining the interpretation of the UAPA by the Delhi High Court. Astonishingly the Delhi and Uttar Pradesh police have been projecting the UAPA as the most sacred statute which cannot be reviewed. The arbitrary manner in which the Delhi Police has been using the law must end. Nevertheless, the apex court must take up the task of re-examination at the earliest as any delay would simply embolden the police to misuse it.

Siddique Kappan has been in prison since October 5 last year in a case linked to an alleged conspiracy to inflame religious enmity over the rape in Hathras of a Dalit girl and her death. Kerala based journalist was on way to over the rape case. In Hathras he along with three PFI men were booked on charges of breach of peace after being arrested while they were on their way to the Uttar Pradesh village to meet the family of the Dalit woman who was allegedly raped and murdered. Two days after the arrest, the UP Police had filed another case against them on various charges, including sedition and the stringent UAPA. The police later booked four more persons in the case. Only a week back a local court of Mathura had dropped proceedings against all four of them. While Kappan is still in jail, his mother passed away on Friday.

Behind the façade of maintaining the secrecy of the statute, the police nurses only one ominous intention of destroying the opponents of some politicians. It does not want anyone to peep inside the provision of the statute as it would expose the hollowness and black hole of the state power.
The human rights activists have already been pleading that this draconian law must be scrapped. India has many laws on the statute books to deal with such problems. There is no need for inducting any such law. The primary reason for keeping this on the statute book is to ruin the lives of the dissenters by denying them bail. Judiciary must not allow the liberty to the police to ruin and destroy the lives of the social activists and intellectuals. A cursory look at the persons who have been in prison under the law would make it substantially clear they are liberal and democratic people who fight for human rights.

The Delhi police was more concerned of the granting of the bail as it would have far-reaching consequences for cases investigated by NIA and other probe agencies. If the Delhi police is really concerned of putting a check on the crime, it must investigate the cases within a stipulated time without dragging it for years. Since it has been implicating the innocent people to satisfy the ego of its political bosses it did not bother for the time frame and the UAPA came to its help for keeping these people in prison for years without conducting a correct and fair trial. Kalita, Narwal and Tanha are accused in four, three and two cases respectively relating to communal riots that broke out on February 24 last year. The dubious intentions of the Delhi police gets exposed by it not conducting a fair and thorough investigation even during one year of stay in jail. It simply makes it explicit that the police has no evidences to prove that they were terrorists and detaining them to please their political masters and terrorise other dissenting voices.

The decision of the Supreme Court to re-examine the case will augur well as it would expose the nefarious design of the Delhi and UP police to falsely implicate the opponents of the ruling party. One nevertheless expects that while re-examining the UAPA, if the apex court happens to find the truth of its misuse then it case it must penalise the officials for conspiring to ruin the lives of hundreds of innocent people and students. If the provisions of UAPA prohibits granting bail if there are reasonable grounds for prosecution, similarly court must prosecute the violators of the law. The Supreme Court must tell that the prosecution’s version is not the sacred text. It has many deficiencies.
The apex court found fault with the HC handling the case of bail for the three students, but the fact remains that the HC has exposed the lack of merit of the case during the bail hearing. The police has simply acted on its whims. If the police was really concerned of the sacredness of the statute, it must have taken pains to maintain and preserve its dignity. The police did not adhere to the basic tenet was exposed by the HC. As the police failed in its task, the HC cannot be expected to overlook its fault. Since the HC came to the conclusion it implied that it has sufficient material to make up its mind and come out with the order. The court cannot be a mute spectator to attack innocence and ruining of lives, as desired by the Delhi police. There is no denying the fact that HC’s order is an indictment of the Delhi Police, which has been primarily responsible for the outbreak of the Delhi riots, which was later endorsed by a fact-finding committee. The HC order has unravelled how individuals are charged under the provisions of the UAPA. (IPA Service)

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