The CPI’s Rajya Sabha MP, P Sandosh Kumar, tells Esha Roy about the demand for the repeal of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in the 75th year of India’s independence
Why did you raise the issue of repealing the UAPA?
From the very beginning, the CPI has opposed, first the introduction and then the enforcement of the UAPA. This has been the political conviction not only of the CPI, but of the Left.
What is the most problematic part of the UAPA?
Under Section 43(d) of the Act, authorities are allowed to imprison an individual without trial for up to 180 days. So, without police filing a chargesheet, an individual can be kept in jail for a period of six months with the reason that they are involved in terrorism activities. Also, UAPA cases are often flimsy.
You also raised the issue of the definition of terrorism…
The government has not defined what terrorism is. Presently it is very vague. So, anything can be terrorism. From actual terrorist events like the attack on the Taj Hotel (the 2008 Mumbai terror attack) to even keeping certain literature or reading certain booklets, such as Maoist pamphlets, can be deemed terrorism. This is problematic. Recently, while dismissing a case under UAPA filed by the NIA, the Supreme Court observed that even a person reading a newspaper can be a problem.
What kind of law do you think the government needs to bring in to deal with terrorism?
Civil society, political parties and the government need to collectively re-think laws as far as terrorism in concerned. Most of the cases that are now filed can be dealt with using the strong IPC sections that we have currently. Some states also have their own laws to deal with such activities.
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What about preventive measures?
Right now, most people being picked up under UAPA are in the age range of 18-30 years, and then the second highest are the 30-45 year category. The conviction rates under UAPA have not been very high. Moreover, even without conviction you are sitting in jail for long periods of time. This affects the lives of those accused under the Act and their families too.