UAPA: Criminalising Dissent and State Terror – Study of UAPA Abuse in India, 2009 – 2022, Excerpts from PUCL report on how the Indian state has weaponised the UAPA law against anyone who dares to challenge the Indian state and assert their fundamental rights to information, association, dissent and democracy.
As part of the Campaign to repeal the UAPA, PUCL undertook a study on the manner in which UAPA is used to “persecute by prosecution” and the functioning of the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
A study of the NIA cases as disclosed by the NIA website shows that out of a total of 357 UAPA cases handled by NIA between the period 2009 – August, 2022 (the time period for this study): about 20% of the UAPA cases were registered and investigated during the Manmohan Singh led regime while 80% of all the UAPA cases were registered and investigated during the present government led by Narendra Modi.
Suo Motu powers to Transfer Investigations from State Police: Threat to federalism
There has been a lot of discussion about how the NIA, as an agency, has been used as a sledge hammer by the present Union government. A study of the NIA website data shows the following breakup of the 357 UAPA cases investigated by the NIA:
(i) Registered suo motu: 41, i.e. 12% of the cases;
(ii) Transferred to NIA from State Police: 316, or 88%.
The most contentious use of such wide powers was in the manner the Ministry of Home Affairs overnight decided to transfer the Bhima Koregaon case in early 2020 from the Maharashtra state police to the NIA only because the Phadnavis-led BJP government fell and a new MVA government led by Uddhav Thackeray took charge
As the study Report points out, “The validity of these transfers from the state police to the NIA is also suspect since a high number of these transferred cases were not even remotely connected to national security or threat to sovereignty or involved any violence”. An example is a case from Madurai involving a Facebook post on 15.08.2019 in which the accused person remarked as to whether India was truly independent. The case was abruptly transferred from the TN State police to the NIA in 2021.
The arbitrary use of unbridled suo motu powers of the Central Government to transfer to itself through the NIA, cases from the State police is a serious threat to federal principles
Abuse of Conspiracy provision
Another issue in the study of the abuse of UAPA was the analysis of use of Sec. 18 of UAPA which is titled `Punishment for Conspiracy’. The point to be noted is that for an offence of conspiracy, an alleged agreement to commit a terrorist crime is enough to prosecute; the “object” of the agreement need not have occurred. The definition of conspiracy is so wide and elastic, that anyone can be roped in.
This study examined the number of cases where sec. 18 UAPA offences were charged. It revealed the following:
Total number of UAPA cases investigated by NIA: 357
Total cases involving sec. 18 charges: 238
Of these 238 cases
– Cases where some incident of terrorism occurred: 86 cases (36%)
– Cases where no specific incident involving weapons
or causing physical injury was reported: 152 cases (64%).
In other words, in 64% of cases involving sec. 18 UAPA charge the mere allegation of the police that a person is a member of a proscribed terrorist organisation or some recoveries were made from him of an alleged weapon or explosives or drugs or money is sufficient to arrest the person and be imprisoned for many years!
Poor conviction rate vis-à-vis the Impossibility of bail in UAPA cases
The National Crimes Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics is the only data source to shed some light on the actual number of persons arrested under UAPA; even though the data is sketchy and only available for the period 2015 till 2020, the picture that emerges from the study is grim.
There were 5924 UAPA cases registered throughout India in which 8371 persons were arrested (Table 2, Report, during 2015 – 2020).
Total released on Bail
In the years, 2018 and 2020, the % of people on bail was as low as 16.32% and 16.88%.
The figure for 2019 reflected a higher proportion of 32.08%.
However a closer study reveals that in TN in 2019, all 308 persons shown as arrested under UAPA were released on bail which is highly unusual for UAPA cases. If these cases are kept aside, the bail % is seen to be 16.27%. (Table 3, Report).
Conviction rates based on no. of cases: 27.57% (Table 4)
Conviction rates based on no. of persons arrested: 2.80% (Table 5)
The poor conviction rate of 2.8% based on number of persons arrested in UAPA cases, is in line with the conviction rates when the previous anti-terror legislations TADA (P) Act and POTA were in vogue.
Looked at in another way, out of 8371 persons arrested during 2015 – 2020 under UAPA, close to 8, 136 persons constituting 97.2% of persons arrested, get acquitted at the end of trials in UAPA courts but after spending many years in jail without bail. As we remark in the report, “Such high acquittal rates, only highlights the fact that most of the prosecutions are devoid of merit and did not warrant initiation of prosecution in the first place, much less, under UAPA”.
This study is in the nature of a preliminary exploration of both the macro picture with respect to the data on use and abuse of UAPA as well as aims to provide a micro lens on the lives devastated by the law. We ask of the civil society to be more vigilant, to come together and raise their voices against the flagrant state abuse. We urge the political parties and leaders of the entire political spectrum to aid in strengthening the demand to repeal the draconian UAPA and other such laws which should not have a place in a constitutional democracy where rule of law is upheld. We seek the support of the media to educate people about the dangers of such laws. Through this report we:
1. Demand repeal of UAPA and repeal of all other anti-people laws.
2. Demand repeal of the NIA Act and disbanding of NIA.
3. Demand the immediate release of all political prisoners, on bail.
4. Take action against all police officials who have wilfully launched false and fabricated cases against the marginalised communities, journalists, academicians, students and others.
5. Take action to provide reparations for those wrongfully accused and released by courts.
The PUCL report was released as part of the #RepealUAPA Campaign. The full report can be accessed here or downloaded here: