[dropcap]S[/dropcap]UPREME Court on Friday issued notice to the central government on two separate petitions filed by a Delhi resident, Sajal Awasthi and an NGO Association For Protection Of Civil Rights (APCR), which challenge the constitutional validity of recent amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment (UAPA), Act that empowers the government to designate an individual as terrorist.
A two-judge bench comprising the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Ashok Bhushan heard the matter.
Stressing that the amendments violate an individual’s right to reputation by giving the authorities sweeping power to brand anyone as a ‘terrorist’ even before the trial, the pleas have demanded that amendments be declared “unconstitutional” as they violated fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.
The amended act passed by the Parliament on August 2 substantially modified chapter VI of the UAPA Act, 1967 in section 35 and 36. The new section 35 empowers the central government to designate any individual as a “terrorist” and add their name to schedule 4 of the act. And once an individual is declared a terrorist, their properties under the amended act—which was brought into force on August 14—can be seized by the government anytime.
Sajal Awasthi, a Delhi-based public-spirited person, has asserted in his petition that “there was no procedure established by law when an individual could be declared a ‘terrorist’ by the government even before trial or application of a judicial mind”.
This, he said, violated an individual’s right to reputation—which is an intrinsic part of the fundamental right to life with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
“The conferring of discretionary, unfettered and unbounded powers upon the central government (to declare a person a terrorist), without any safeguards, is the very antithesis of Article 14 of the Constitution of India”, the petition argued.
“It is a well-settled and established position of law that dignity and liberty of an individual is inalienable under the regime of our controlled constitution, and the State is under an obligation to preserve the same,” Awasthi maintained, stressing that section 35 of the amended act also undermines the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights—which recognizes the right to reputation of an individual.
Remarkably, the convention has been ratified by India.