COVID-19: Combating Bioterrorism through the UAPA Act, 1967

Introduction

The recent outbreak of COVID-19 has inflamed the discussion on the potentiality of biological warfare in the 21st century, or what has been also termed as ‘Century of biological war’. While the world is battling valiantly on health and economic front, India in addition to this recently has witnessed a novel serious high risking hazard, i.e. of biological terrorism [hereinafter bio-terrorism].

News reports are flooded with miscreants purposively spreading the disease by vehemently spitting on others as well as attacking doctors and police personnel on duty. There are abundant reports of people deliberately hiding the infected persons and sheltering them from the police. In these disturbing times, when the whole country is facing an acute shortage of healthcare workers and facing other severe problem, such acts are not to be considered as ‘general offence’ but warrants a more astute examination. In furtherance of which, the current article scrutinizes such serous acts on the anvil of bioterrorism and whether it comes under the ambit of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act,1967[hereinafter, UAPA Act].

Examining the UAPA act and scope of bio-terrorism within its ambit

Section 15 (1) (a) of the UAPA Act defines a terrorist act. It provides that ‘Whoever does any act with the intent to threaten or likely to threaten the unity, integrity, security [economic security,] or sovereignty of India or with intent to strike terror or likely to strike terror in the people or any section of the people in India or in any foreign country by using bombs, dynamite or other explosive substances or inflammable substances or firearms or other lethal weapons or poisonous or noxious gases or other chemicals or by any other substances (whether biological radioactive, nuclear or otherwise) of a hazardous nature or by any other means of whatever nature to cause or likely to cause, inter alia “death of, or injuries to, any person or persons” commits a terrorist act.’[Emphasised]

Whoever commits a terrorist act, according to Section 16 of the UAPA act shall,— (a) if such act has resulted in the death of any person, be punishable with death or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine; (b) in any other case, be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than five years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.

Section 18 of the UAPA Act defines punishment for conspiracy. It states that “Whoever conspires or attempts to commit, or advocates, abets, advises or  [incites, directly or knowingly facilitates] the commission of, a terrorist act or any act preparatory to the commission of a terrorist act, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than five years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

Bioterrorism has been defined as a planned and deliberate use of pathogenic strains of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, or their toxins to spread life-threatening diseases on a mass scale in order to devastate the population of an area. A bioterrorism attack is the deliberate release of viruses, bacteria, or other germs (agents) used to cause illness or death in people, animals, or plants. When we conjointly read section 15 and 18 of the UAPA Act, we can identify that the UAPA act is flexible and inclusive enough to subsume the act of bio-terror under its boundaries. The spread of the virus through spitting by the miscreants and other like means constitute a hazardous substance as the virus contained therein has a high human to human transmission risk and thus, it comes under the definition as provided in Section 15. It is also intentional and likely to strike terror in the people.

The spitting of infected people is a deliberate act with no justification and is aimed to inflict terror on a section of doctors and healthcare workers as well as policemen. The act of spitting is not under any provocation or done in an act of defence, but an orchestrated act done with a premeditated mind which fatally threatens the life of the healthcare workers and security personnel working on duty. Since the COVID-19 outbreak has escalated because the novel coronavirus has a high rate of human to human transmission, spreading the disease intentionally by such act indirectly threatens the ‘economic security’ of India, considering that the state of the economy has been worse hit due to nationwide lockdown. This act is done with an aim to stifle the public order and may lead to inciting other such infected people to act in the like manner, leading to what is known as the domino effect.

Further, the concerned persons who are sheltering those miscreants involved in spreading such disease are abetting as well as directly and knowingly facilitating the act of terrorism.

The Road Ahead: NIA must come forward to take the charge

With the enactment of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act 2019, and subsequent amendment of section 35 of the UAPA Act, an individual perpetrator of terrorism can be booked under the UAPA Act. The amendment act was aimed at preventing the individual offenders from circumventing the law, as earlier, only ‘organisations’ could be notified as a terrorist. Under Section 45 of the UAPA Act, the court shall take cognizance of any offence only when there is a previous sanction of the Central Government or any officer authorised by the Central Government in this behalf. The National Investigation Agency, as created by the NIA Act,2008 deals with such cases of terrorism and offenders under the UAPA Act.

Currently, these miscreants have usually escaped the eyes of the law, whereas in few cases, FIR has been lodged under various provisions of Indian Penal Code,1860. Yet, the gravity of the offence warrants more strict action so as to create both deterrence and prevention of such inhuman act. The country is already havocked by a novel virus which has its origins in other country and has little standing before the International Court of Justice to initiate action, but the law of the country is well equipped to deal with miscreants who are using such virus as a mechanism to perpetuate biological terrorism. Only the need of the hour is to recognise and apply the concerned law.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Himanshu Ranjan

IMG20200422210958

Himanshu Ranjan is a first-year BA.LL.B (Hons) student at National Law University, Jodhpur. His subjects of interest are Constitutional laws and Criminal laws.

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