A public interest litigation (PIL) has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking direction to declare unconstitutional the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment (UAPA) Act, 2019 that confers power upon the Central government to designate an individual as a terrorist.
The PIL filed by a Delhi resident Sajal Awasthi also sought direction to declare the UAPA violative of fundamental rights as enshrined under Article 14 (Right to Equality), 19 (Right to Free Speech and Expression) and Article 21 (Right to Life) of the Constitution of India.
The petition stated that the recent amendment allows notification of "individuals as terrorists" while under UAPA, 1967, only organisations could be so notified. The UAPA 2019 has modified Chapter VI of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 along with Section 35 and 36, it added.
Section 35 of UAPA 2019 does not specify detailed grounds or reasons based on which an individual can be termed as a terrorist, said the plea, adding that conferring of such an "arbitrary and unfettered power without any limits or bounds" amounts to the violation of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
The petition stated: "The new or amended Section 35 of the UAPA Act, 1967 empowers the Central government to categorise any individual as a terrorist and add the name of such a person in Schedule 4 of the Act. Conferring of such a discretionary, unfettered and unbound powers upon the Central government is an antithesis to Article 14 of the Constitution of India."
The amendments in UAPA, 2019 empower the ruling government, under the garb of curbing terrorism to impose an indirect restriction on the right of dissent, which is detrimental for our developing democratic society, the plea said.
It added that the UAPA, 2019 "does not afford an opportunity to an individual, being categorised as a terrorist, to present his/her case and let such individuals live on the whim and caprice of the society thereinafter."
The amended Section 35 of the UAPA, 1967 "directly and adversely affects the fundamental right to free speech and expression" as enshrined under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India. Right of dissent is a part and parcel of fundamental right to free speech and expression and therefore, cannot be abridged in any circumstances except for mentioned in Article 19 (2), the plea added.
The petition also stated that UAPA, 2019 also violates the right to reputation -- an integral part of the right to life, by terming or tagging an individual as terrorist even before the commencement of trial.
Earlier this month the President Ram Nath Kovind gave assent to the legislation under which individuals can be declared as terrorists, their properties seized, and that put travel ban on such individuals.