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Anti-terror law to be back with human face

New Delhi, July 16: The anti-terror law may be on its way out, but its spirit will survive in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967, that is currently being given a major facelift.

By the time the exercise is complete, the UAPA will come across as much more stringent than it is today. It will borrow a few provisions from the Prevention of Terrorism Act, but only those that are not seen as violation of a citizen’s rights.

When the anti-terror act was passed, the Congress — then in the Opposition — had raised objections, saying the existing laws were sufficient to deal with terrorism.

By repealing the law, the United Progressive Alliance government will make good its promise in its common minimum programme. It had said the act was being misused and should be done away with.

However, barely two months in power, the UPA also appears to have realised how essential legal provisions dealing with terrorism are.

As the Union home ministry takes a final look at the proposal to repeal the act before it is placed before the cabinet, the security establishment is trying to convince the political leadership to continue with most of its provisions.

The finer details of the legislation are being worked out and will be finalised by the Prime Minister’s Office.

The attempt, sources said, is to arrive at some kind of a compromise between the “mild” UAPA that has survived nearly four decades without offending anyone and the Prevention of Terrorism Act that has raised a storm in the two-odd years of its existence.

Once the government is done with amendments to the UAPA, it would be able to severely punish terrorist acts without antagonising human rights activists.

For instance, the provision in the anti-terror law that makes a confession before the senior police officer mandatory will disappear from the statute.

The act treats all accused as guilty unless they prove their innocence. This feature will also meet the same fate. Ordinarily Indian criminal jurisprudence treats all accused as innocent unless proven guilty.

Punishments for violation of provisions under the new law will not be as harsh as they are now.

The present act prescribes punishment of a minimum of five years and a maximum of life imprisonment for a terrorist act. In its new avatar, life imprisonment is unlikely to be a punishment for any offence.

Officials suggest some sections in the government had toyed with the idea of replacing the law with a fresh one. However, they later felt that it would be interpreted as “hoodwinking” the people and settled for a new-look UAPA.

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