Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 04 July 2023

2014 Arunachal Pradesh law is facing legal challenge

Source: By Sukrita Baruah: The Indian Express

legislation enacted in Arunachal Pradesh in 2014, the Arunachal Pradesh Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (APUAPA), is currently under the scanner, with civil society organisations demanding its repeal and a petition challenging it before the Itanagar bench of the Gauhati High Court.

What is APUAPA?

The APUAPA was notified in 2014 “to provide for more effective prevention of certain unlawful activities of individuals and associations.” It enables the state government or any official not below the rank of a Secretary to the State Government or a District Magistrate to make on order for detaining certain categories of people to prevent them from “acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of the State, or maintenance of public order or maintenance of daily supplies and services essential to the public”.

These categories of people include “any person who is bootleggerhabitual depredator of environmenthabitual drug offenderproperty grabber, dangerous persons, and unlawful persons associated with unlawful activities”.

The Act defines public order as having been affected adversely as “directly or indirectly causing or is likely to cause any harm, danger or alarm or feeling of insecurity among the general public or any section thereof or a grave or widespread danger to lifeproperty or public health.”

Within three weeks of detention, the matter is to be placed before an advisory board which will give its opinion on whether there is sufficient cause for detention of an individual. If its opinion is that there is sufficient cause, a person can be detained for up to six months under the act.

What prompted the current focus on this Act?

The Act suddenly drew attention when 41 people were booked and detained under it after a call was issued for a 72-hour bandh in various districts of the state from 10 May to 12 May. These included prominent anti-corruption activist Sol Dodum, Aam Aadmi Party’s Arunachal Pradesh convener Tana Tamar Tara, and Chairman of Pro-Dam Movement of Arunachal Pradesh Taw Paul.

The bandh call had been issued in protest against the 2022 Arunachal Pradesh Public Service Commission paper leak case in which 42 government employees have been arrested so far. The protest call was to demand the implementation of 13-point charter of demands, including declaring all examinations conducted by the APPSC where anomalies were found as “null and void”. Thirty people had been detained under the APUAPA on 9 and 10 May even before the bandh commenced. Eighteen of them were released on 29 May, while the remaining were released last week.

Was this the first time the APUAPA was invoked?

According to lawyer Ebo Milli, while the Act has been invoked in the past, the mass detentions under it in this case drew the attention of a population among which awareness on this Act had been limited so far.

They did use APUAPA earlier too but not on such a scale. The reason there has been a huge outcry this time is that those detained were vocal about a fair probe into the APSC fiasco. Many people became aware of the APUAPA only after the current detentions, Milli said.

What are the grounds on which it is being opposed?

Activist Gyadi Paying has filed a petition challenging the constitutional validity of the Act and seeking its abolition. Among the grounds on which this is being sought is that it does not allow a detainee legal representation before the advisory board deliberating on their case, which, the petition states, is a violation of fundamental rights.

The petition also points to a clause of the Act in which if the officer making the detention order has reason to believe that the person for whom the order has been made is absconding, they may apply provisions of the CrPC attaching the person’s property. This, the petition states, amounts to “illegal encroachment beyond the jurisdiction of a district magistrate”.

The Arunachal Law Students’ Union has also demanded its repeal, calling it draconian and arbitrary.

This Act talks about violation of environmental issuesdrugs smugglersproperty destructionobstruction of daily necessities, etc. which are already covered under IPC and other laws. Why does the government need extra power when these violators can be booked under given laws?” said Milli.

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