Herald View: The Supreme Court this month has a second chance to stop the misuse of UAPA
Bad laws are said to be the worst sort of tyranny and there is little doubt that UAPA is one of them
Surprise, shock and disappointment are the words which have been used to describe the Supreme Court’s ruling on Delhi High Court’s bail order releasing three anti-CAA protestors last month. All of them students, Asif Tanha, Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita had spent a year in jail without commencement of trial. All three of them were accused by Delhi Police of having instigated and engineered the Delhi riots in February 2020. The Delhi Police had completed the investigation in record time and filed a charge sheet. But the Delhi High Court noted that there did not seem to be sufficient evidence to back up the charges against the accused. In any case, it noted, police should have exercised sufficient caution in differentiating between a law and order issue, a public order issue and terrorist violence. Acknowledging that every violation of the law and every alleged crime cannot be described as terrorism, it ordered the immediate release of the three on bail. Delhi Police appealed against this order to the Supreme Court and the Solicitor General of India argued that the Delhi High Court had watered down the Act and had in fact read down the Act.
The Supreme Court curiously agreed with the Government’s submission but did not turn down the order. While sustaining the bail order, however, the Supreme Court ruled that the Delhi High Court order would not be treated as a precedent. The stand appeared contradictory as it upheld the order on one hand while questioning it on the other. The apex court moreover professed to be surprised at the 100-page order of the High Court in a bail matter. It is time the courts start expressing not just surprise but outrage at the 17,000-page charge sheet that Delhi Police filed and the long list of 740 Prosecution Witnesses that the police listed against the three accused. This is an old trick to prolong the trial and harassment. It is time the judiciary therefore asked some hard questions to the police.
Luckily, the Supreme Court has a second chance this month to redeem the public’s faith in the apex court’s role in loco parentis. When the hearing resumes in the case in the third week of July, it will have another opportunity to review its interim ruling and scrutinize the UAPA Act, its misuse and the role of the police. It also needs to define terrorism. Successive governments have tried various laws including TADA, POTA, NSA and the UAPA to deal with potential terrorists. But while there is high decibel noise about the threat of terrorism, India has one of the lowest fatalities, two percent, caused by terrorism globally in 46 years between 1970 and 2016. However, the number of Indians arrested under UAPA between 2015 and 2019 is 7,840 out of whom only 155, two percent, have been convicted. There are reports in the media of several terror accused acquitted after spending long years in jail, their lives turned upside down.
Bad laws are said to be the worst sort of tyranny and there is little doubt that UAPA is one of them. The Supreme Court will hopefully ask the right questions and help narrow down the definition of a terrorist act, which now includes even a road blockade. The least that is expected, is that it will insist that the police apply its mind before charging people with terrorist activities; and if the police fail to prove their case in a court of law, somebody is held accountable and made to pay.