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Plea against Simi ban law

New Delhi, May 7: The Supreme Court today issued notices to the Centre on a petition that challenged the ban on student outfit Simi on the ground that the law under which it had been outlawed had “fundamental flaws”.

The plea, filed by two former members of the Students’ Islamic Movement of India, has challenged the legality of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), 1967, saying the curbs the law imposed on citizens violated fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

The “…restrictions imposed by the act and its rules, and by virtue of the manner of the act’s operationalisation, are wholly unreasonable and impermissible”, the petition said.

A three-judge bench of Justices R.M. Lodha, H.L. Gokhale and Ranjan Gogoi issued the notices after hearing Simi’s counsel Uday U. Lalit, and asked the Centre to respond within 10 weeks.

Lalit told the court the ban on the outfit has been in place for over 10 years and a raft of petitions challenging such orders were pending before the top court since 2002.

In February 2012, the government banned the outfit for the sixth time for another two years. This order, too, has been challenged before a tribunal headed by a high court judge.

In their petition, Humam Ahmad Siddiqui and Misbahul Islam said the UAPA’s provisions were intrinsically flawed and violated Articles 14 (right to equality), 19 (freedom of speech and expression) and 21 (right to life and liberty).

The petition said Simi had ceased to exist after the first ban on September 27, 2001. “The entire organisation, including its offices, its records, and its cadres, was put under lock and key after the initial ban. The offices and records still remain under government seal while almost all its then members have since crossed the maximum age of eligibility for membership.”

Still, the petition said, the government insists that the outfit continues to exist as an underground organisation.

The petition said the Centre, to bolster its “specious and baseless” case that Simi still operated as a clandestine outfit, relied upon alleged confessional statements recorded by police.

The petition contended that the UAPA had become a lawless law in the hands of the state, a weapon to suppress legitimate protest and dissent by whimsical and arbitrary invocation of the spectre of terrorism.

Since the first ban in September 2001, the outfit has remained proscribed except for a brief period between September 2005 and February 2006.

The petitioners said the Centre had set up yet another tribunal after notifying the latest ban in February, but argued that it would be an exercise in futility in the absence of any adjudication by the court on vital questions of law and procedure raised in the petitions/appeals against decisions of previous tribunals.

In their appeal, Siddiqui and Islam said there were “fundamental flaws in the UAPA and the rules framed thereunder result in complete denial of fundamental rights guaranteed under … the Constitution”.

“Further, wholly illegal interpretations on vital questions of law and procedure by successive tribunals, starting with the very first tribunal … have completely vitiated the possibility of a fair, just and proper adjudication by the tribunals constituted under the act, at least in the case of Simi,” the petition said.

The top court had earlier set aside a similar ban on the Jammat-e-Islami Hind, but did not go into the legality of the UAPA.

The latest tribunal will have to complete proceedings within six months, that is August 2.