Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act and Principle of Legislative Classification

The Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 (hereinafter referred to as the Act) is a piece of Legislation containing 30 Sections. Though miniature legislation, the Act tends to be very harsh and drastic containing the stringent provisions to combat the menace of terrorism which has taken an endemic form indulging in wanton killings, arson, looting of properties and other heinous crimes affecting human rights and individual liberty. The constitutionality of the Act has been concluded by the Constitution Bench of this Court in Kartar Singh vs. State of Punjab, (1994) 3 SCC 569. The validity of Section 15 of the Act which would be relevant for the present purpose has been held to be intra-vires the Constitution. In paragraphs 217, 218, 220, 222, 236 and 243 it is said:

“217. If the procedural law is oppressive and violates the principle of just and fair trial offending Article 21 of the Constitution and is discriminatory violating the equal protection of laws offending Article 14 of the Constitution, then Section 15 of TADA Act is to be struck down. Therefore, it has become inevitably essential to examine the classification of ‘offenders’ and ‘offences’ so as to enable us in deciding whether Section 15 is violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.

218. The principle of legislative classification is an accepted principle whereunder persons may be classified into groups and such groups may differently be treated if there is a reasonable basis for such difference or distinction. The rule of differentiation is that in enacting laws differentiating between different persons or things in different circumstances which govern one set of persons or objects such laws may not necessarily be the same as those governing another set of persons or objects so that the question of unequal treatment does not really arise between persons governed by different conditions and different set of circumstances.

220. Coming to the distinction made in TADA Act grouping the terrorists and disruptionists as a separate class of offenders from ordinary criminals under the normal laws and the classification of the offences under TADA Act as aggravated form of crimes distinguishable from the ordinary crimes have to be tested and determined as to whether this distinction and classification are reasonable and valid within the term of Article 14 of the Constitution. In order to consider the question as to the reasonableness of the distinction and classification, it is necessary to take into account the objective for such distinction and classification which of course need not be made with mathematical precision. Suffice, if there is little or no difference between the persons and the things which have been grouped together and those left out of the groups, the classification cannot be said to be a reasonable one. In making the classification, various factors have to be taken into consideration and examine as to whether such a distinction or classification justifies the different treatment and whether they subserve the object sought to be achieved.

222. As pointed out supra, the persons who are to be tried for offences specified under the provisions of TADA Act are a distinct class of persons and the procedure prescribed for trying them for the aggravated and incensed nature of offences are under different classification distinguishable from the ordinary criminals and procedure. This distinction and classification of grouping of the accused and the offences to be tried under TADA are to achieve the meaningful purpose and object of the Act as reflected from the preamble as well as the ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’ about which we have elaborately dealt with in the preceding part of this judgment.

236. Keeping the above proposition, we have to decide whether the provisions of Section 15 of the 1987 Act (TADA) contravene Article 14. True, if the classification is shown to be arbitrary and unreasonable and without any substantial basis, the law would be contrary to the equal protection of laws by Article 14.

243. The above decision, in our view, cannot be availed of for striking down Section 15 of TADA Act because the classification of ‘offenders’ and ‘offences’ to be tried by the Designated Court under the TADA Act or by the Special Courts under the Act of 1984, are not left to the arbitrary and uncontrolled discretion of the Central Government but the Act itself has made a delineated classification of the offenders as terrorists and disruptionists in the TADA Act and the terrorists under the Special Courts Act, 1984 as well as the classification of offences under both the Acts.

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