Misuse of UAPA: Delhi HC bail to student activists


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  • GS-2: Fundamental Rights & Democracy
  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Misuse of UAPA: Delhi HC bail to student activists

Context: The recent Delhi High Court orders granting bail to three student activists – Asif Iqbal Tanha, Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita – jailed for over a year for their alleged role in the February 2020 riots in Delhi

Do You Know?

  • According to data provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs in Parliament, a total of 1126 cases were registered under UAPA in 2019, a sharp rise from 897 in 2015.
  • UAPA, in relaxing timelines for the state to file chargesheets and its stringent conditions for bail, gives the state more powers compared to the Indian Penal Code.

Why were student activists arrested & jailed for over a year?

  • The three students had protested against the enactment of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA).
  • Delhi Police alleged that they had also fomented the riots and invoked Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act(UAPA)
  • Under Section 43D(5) of the act, there is a legal bar on granting bail if the court is of the opinion that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the accusation against those held is prima facie true. 
  • They also didn’t get bail as the provision of law are titled against accused
    • The accused have to demonstrate to the court that the accusation is untrue. 
    • A 2019 Supreme Court judgment bars a detailed analysis of the evidence at the bail stage and rules that bail can be denied on “the broad probabilities” of the case. These further added the burden on jailed student activists.

Delhi High Court’s Bail Order ruling

  • It has found that none of the three student activists were specifically or particularly accused of any ‘terrorist act’. Once the UAPA charges were not seen to be true, it was open to the court to admit them to regular bail and grant them the bail.
  • New approach to grant bail: The High Court has ruled that the bail court can look at the available evidence to satisfy itself about the prima facie truth of the case. In other words, there is no statutory invincibility to the prosecution case merely because the UAPA has been invoked. 
  • Calling out misuse of terror law: The court’s observed that the state, in its anxiety to suppress dissent, has blurred the line between the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and “terrorist activity”. If such blurring gains traction, democracy would be in peril,
    • The bail orders also refer to how the Supreme Court itself, in the 1994 case of Kartar Singh v State of Punjab, flagged similar concerns against the misuse of another anti-terror law, the Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987.
  • Terrorism is beyond Public disorder: The Delhi HC said that the extent and reach of terrorist activity must travel beyond the effect of an ordinary crime and must not arise merely by causing disturbance of law and order or even public order; and must be such that it travels beyond the capacity of the ordinary law enforcement agencies to deal with it by ordinary law.
  • Right to protest sacrosanct: Noting that protests against governmental and parliamentary actions were legitimate, the HC said the right to peaceful protest is not outlawed. It held that student activists protest cannot be termed as a ‘terrorist act’ within the meaning of the UAPA.

Consequence of ruling on other dissenters: 

  • High Court has made a clear distinction between those accused of offences against the country’s integrity and security on the one hand, and protesters or dissenters roped in unjustifiably under the rubric of ‘terrorism’ on the other. 
  • If the Delhi High Court’s approach to grant bail is upheld by SC, it would help secure the liberty of other dissenters held under the UAPA elsewhere without sufficient basis.

Connecting the dots:


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