The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Union government to respond to petitions challenging its decision to amend the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act giving it powers to categorise anyone as a terrorist.
A Bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi issued notice to the Centre on petitions filed by Sajal Awasthi and NGO Association for Protection of Civil Rights, which said the amended law allowed the government to freely encroach upon the fundamental rights of dignity, free speech, dissent and reputation.
The petitions said the UAPA Amendment Act of 2019, passed by Parliament, conferred the Centre with “discretionary, unfettered and unbound powers” to categorise a person as a terrorist.
The law could now be used by the government to bring a person into disrepute, and even worse, rob him or her liberty. The heavy burden to prove the entire government machinery wrong would lie on the person.
“The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2019 seeks to substantially modify Chapter VI of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 and Section 35 and 36 therein. The new Section 35 of the UAPA Act, 1967 empowers the Central government to categorise any individual as ‘terrorist’ and add name of such a person in Schedule 4 of the Act,” Mr. Awasthi contended.
Right to reputation
The petition said the right to reputation was an intrinsic part of fundamental right to life with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution and tagging an individual as “terrorist” even before the commencement of trial or any application of judicial mind over it, did not amount to following the ‘procedure established by law’.
“The 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 UAPA, 2019 empowers the ruling government, under the garb of curbing terrorism, to impose indirect restriction on right of dissent which is detrimental for our developing democratic society,” it said.
Instead of preserving the dignity of an individual, the government sought to encroach upon it, it added.