SC Permits Withdrawal of Pleas Challenging Constitutional Validity of UAPA Provisions


In an unexpected development, individuals and groups who had contested the constitutional validity of the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in the Supreme Court withdrew their pleas on Thursday, stating that they have opted to pursue their grievances through appropriate forums.

A bench comprising Justices Bela M Trivedi and Pankaj Mithal, which had previously indicated its reluctance to entertain “proxy litigation” aimed at challenging the legitimacy of the anti-terrorism law UAPA, permitted the withdrawal of eight petitions after the petitioners’ counsels expressed their intention to seek relief from the respective high courts.

The bench had directed the petitioners’ counsels to ascertain by Thursday whether their clients wished to approach the high court to quash FIRs in UAPA cases or challenge the validity of the law in the apex court.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing three civil society members, including a journalist, who had been charged under the anti-terrorism law by the Tripura Police in 2021 for their social media posts regarding riots in the state, informed the court that his clients had instructed him to withdraw the petitions. Bhushan requested an extension of the interim order dated November 17, 2021, providing protection from arrest by two weeks.

Justice Trivedi declined to issue any such order but orally directed the Tripura police not to take any coercive action. She stated, “Normally, we would not have entertained such petitions under Article 32 of the Constitution. We are not going to pass any such order. We are not saying anything in the order, but you (Tripura police) don’t do anything.”

Bhushan urged the bench to permit the petitioners to appear before the high court via video conferencing.

Justice Trivedi responded that the Supreme Court cannot oversee every aspect and advised the petitioners to approach the high court for video conferencing or any other relief.

A similar request was made by the NGO Foundation for Media Professionals for the withdrawal of a petition challenging the constitutional validity of the UAPA provisions, with liberty to approach the appropriate forum.

The bench granted the NGO’s request to withdraw its petition.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court had announced that it would only entertain challenges to the validity of the UAPA provisions brought by those directly affected by it and had declined to hear senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, who represented some writ petitioners contesting the anti-terrorism law.

“The petitioner must be an aggrieved party, and there must be a violation of their rights. Only then can the question of challenging the validity of a legislative provision arise,” the court had stated. The bench noted that in public interest litigation (PIL) matters, the doctrine of locus standi might not be strictly applicable, but where the validity of a law is challenged, there should be some degree of involvement.

“Otherwise, it will be proxy litigation on behalf of other persons who do not want to come to the forefront. That would not be permissible. We have to be careful about allowing such proxy litigation,” Justice Mithal observed.

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