Dissent is an integral part of a mature democracy. It is only in authoritarian regimes or in the colonial past that any criticism of the government is treated as an act of terror or declaration of war against the State. Recently, the Central government informed Parliament that A total of 24,134 people were arrested and faced trial under the anti-terror law Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) between 2016 and 2020 and only 212 of them were convicted . In a written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha, Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai also said 386 people accused under the UAPA were acquitted by different courts.
The UAPA – an enhancement on the TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act), which was allowed to lapse in 1995 and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) was repealed in 2004 — was originally passed in 1967 under the then Congress government led by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Eventually, amendments were brought in under the successive United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governments in 2004, 2008 and 2013. At present, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is functioning as the Central Counter-Terrorism Law Enforcement Agency in India established under NIA Act 2008.
Various Judicial experts view the UAPA as part of the police’s efforts to stifle peaceful dissent. The tendency among the police has been to frequently use the anti-terrorism law as it enables them to detain the accused for longer periods without a trial.