The Centre on Wednesday told the Parliament that 1,948 people were arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act in 2019. Of these, only 34 were convicted under the law, Minister of State of Home Affairs Nityanand Rai said in the Rajya Sabha.

Rai was responding to a question by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP Tiruchi Siva. He had asked the government to furnish data on the number of persons currently imprisoned under the UAPA and the number of them who were found guilty during 2020-21.

However, Rai, in his reply said that the latest data on the matter was available from the National Crime Records Bureau’s “Crime in India” report for 2019.

Under the stringent provisions of the UAPA, investigative agencies get 180 days to probe a case, compared to 60-90 days under ordinary criminal law. This means an accused is eligible to apply for bail only after six months.

Lawyers have said the police in India are frequently using the anti-terrorism law as it enables them to detain the accused for longer periods of time without a trial. They see this as part of police efforts to stifle peaceful dissent.

As recently as in the last couple of months, courts and Supreme Court judges – both former and sitting – have expressed their concerns over the inadvertent use of the legislation.

Speaking at an event last month, Supreme Court judge Justice DY Chandrachud, said that the law should not be used for “quelling dissent”.

In another event on the relevance of UAPA and sedition laws, former Supreme Court judge Justice Deepak Gupta asserted that the UAPA should not remain in its current form. Another retired judge of the top court, Justice Madan Lokur said that the courts, society and the State should consider the mental trauma afflicted on the families of activists, journalists and civil society members accused of sedition and UAPA.

Recent notable UAPA cases

In June, the Delhi High Court granted bail to student activists Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha, who were charged under UAPA in a case related to violence in the national Capital in February 2020.

In its bail order for Tanha, the division bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Anup J Bhambhani court noted that charging people with UAPA “frivolously” will undermine the “intent and purpose” of the law.

On July 2, peasants’ rights activist and Assam MLA Akhil Gogoi was released from jail after 1.5 years. A special National Investigation Agency court cleared him in one of the cases filed against him under the UAPA in connection with anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests in Assam.

Meanwhile, 84-year-old tribal rights activist Stan Swamy was charged under the stringent UAPA provisions, as he died on July 5, while in custody. He was was denied bail repeatedly, despite suffering from Parkinson’s disease and later Covid-19. The Jesuit priest was detained under the anti-terrorism law in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case without any reliable evidence.

Fourteen of the people accused in the case also remain in prison in Maharashtra, charged under the UAPA for allegedly conspiring to set off caste violence in a village near Pune in 2018.