While the Modi government is keen on strengthening NIA, the opposition fears that the bill may be misused.
On July, 15th, the Lok Sabha passed the controversial National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2019. Home minister Amit Shah urged all political parties to support the bill to send out a message that Parliament was unanimous in the fight against terrorism. The bill was passed after 278 members of Parliament (MPs) supported it, with only 6 opposing it during voting.
While several opposition parties alleged that the bill will be used specifically against people of one religion. The Union government assured the opposition that the bill will not be misused against any community on the basis of caste, religion and region.
The National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2019, says: "In order to facilitate the speedy investigation and prosecution of Scheduled Offences, including those committed outside India against the Indian citizens or affecting the interest of India and to insert certain new offences in the Schedule to the Act as Scheduled Offences which adversely affect the national security, it has become necessary to amend certain provisions of the Act.
The current amendment to the bill is likely to give greater powers to the organization. The bill in the current form seeks to increase the jurisdiction of NIA to investigate scheduled offences committed outside India and provides for constituting special courts for the trial of scheduled offences such as human trafficking and cyber terrorism.
The National Investigative Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2019, seeks to empower the investigative agency to probe cases targeting Indians and Indian assets abroad. The National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2019, will give the agency jurisdiction over several more crimes, allow it to investigate incidents that have taken place abroad, and attach properties of suspects without having to wait for local police.
“Let me make it clear the Modi government has no intention of misusing the law. Its only goal is to finish off terrorism. We will also not look at the religion of the accused while taking action,” Union home minister Amit Shah said, responding to opposition members who said the law will be used to target minorities and political rivals. The new crimes that NIA will be able to take up are those related to cyber terrorism, fake currency, hijacking, human trafficking and crimes involving nuclear facilities. The bill also gives the government power to set up special courts for NIA cases.
Shah also clarified the difference between the bill and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) 2002 – a law passed by the first National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government and repealed by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance in 2004 over similar allegations of misuse. “POTA brought in protection from terrorism, but it was repealed for vote-bank politics,” the home minister said. “There was such rise in terrorism between 2004 and 2008 that the UPA had to bring the NIA Bill,” Shah added.
Minister of state for home affairs G. Kishan Reddy, pointed out that the NIA was investigating 272 cases of which 46 resulted in convictions, while charge sheets have been filed in 191 cases perpetrators of such crimes have skirted appropriate punishment earlier in absence of NIA’s power to probe them.
The NIA Act and the proposed Bill
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) was formed when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was in power at the Centre. The NIA Act, 2008 was passed by the then UPA government to setup the NIA in wake of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
The schedule to the Act specifies a list of offences which are to be investigated and prosecuted by the NIA. These include offences under Acts such as the Atomic Energy Act, 1962, and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967. The Bill seeks to allow the NIA to investigate the following offences, in addition: (i) human trafficking, (ii) offences related to counterfeit currency or bank notes, (iii) manufacture or sale of prohibited arms, (iv) cyber-terrorism, and (v) offences under the Explosive Substances Act, 1908.
The Act provides for the creation of the NIA to investigate and prosecute offences specified in the schedule. The officers of the NIA have the same powers as other police officers in relation to investigation of such offences, across India. The Bill states that in addition, officers of the NIA will have the power to investigate scheduled offences committed outside India, subject to international treaties and domestic laws of other countries. The central government may direct the NIA to investigate such cases, as if the offence has been committed in India. The Special Court in New Delhi will have jurisdiction over these cases.
The Act allows the central government to constitute Special Courts for the trial of scheduled offences. The Bill amends this to state that the central government may designate Sessions Courts as Special Courts for the trial of scheduled offences. The central government is required to consult the Chief Justice of the High Court under which the Sessions Court is functioning, before designating it as a Special Court. When more than one Special Court has been designated for any area, the senior-most judge will distribute cases among the courts. Further, state governments may also designate Sessions Courts as Special Courts for the trial of scheduled offences.
On July 17th, two days after the Lok Sabha approved the bill, the National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill-2019 was passed in the Rajya Sabha.
Congress, TMC & AIMIM calls the bill ‘unconstitutional’
“We want to fight terrorism with zero tolerance and have brought this bill in national interest." said Home Minister, Amit Shah and reiterated the stand of the government as zero tolerant. While the government maintained that broadening the central probe agency's investigation powers through the legislation was essential for implementing its zero-tolerance policy against terrorism, the opposition claimed that it would end up turning India into a "police state". The opposition Congress, Trinamool Congress and AIMIM opposed the bill citing constitution and religion and much more.
Congress MP, Manish Tewari said the Union government was attempting to turn India into a “police state" with a bunch of legislations beginning with the NIA Amendment Bill. “In the absence of the data protection Act, in the absence of definition of terrorism, if you read the NIA Amendment Bill in conjunction with UAPA Amendment Bill, in conjunction with the Biotechnology Bill, in conjunction with the Aadhaar Amendment Bill, you are seeking to turn this country into a police state, and the repercussions of that will last far beyond your tenure,” he said. Tewari also said that the probe agency are misused for political vendetta and are 'inspired media leaks'.
The AIMIM chief Assadduddin Owaisi said that various parts of the bill violate Article 14 - right to equality. Raising question on the NIA, he asked if the NIA has particular investigative techniques and has a legislative order to undertake them. He criticised the inefficiency of NIA and pointed out the acquittals of nine men, who were from the Muslim community, in the Malegaon blasts case 10 years after they were accused. He also cited the Samjhauta Blast case where he said, that the NIA was not even able to produce the CCTV footage in front of the court. He also brought in the Mecca Masjid Blast where 9 people were killed and asked if the intention of government is correct, why it is not appealing in these cases.
While Congress MP Manish Tewari accused the government, Mumbai Congress leader Milind Deora extended support to the passage of the NIA Amendment Bill (2019). Mlind Deora welcomed the move stating that the government must hasten the enactment of the Personal Data Protection Bill using the NIA's newfound freedom.
Why is the opposition scared?
Is it not the duty of every citizen to safe guard the interest of the nation? When an ordinary citizen is expected to protect his/her country, is not the duty of the elected representatives to act more diligently and sensibly?
That too at a time when the whole world is struggling to wipe out terrorism, how can the political parties not consider the security of the nation as the foremost concern? Can the country not go ahead in implementing stringent laws in order to curb terrorism? Home Minister Amit Shah made a resounding remark in the parliament. “The country has given us the responsibility to protect 130 crore people of the country and we will root out the menace of terrorism from the country” said Amit Shah. Rather than joining hands with the ruling government on the issue of paramount importance – The National Security – the opposition parties are ganging up to oppose the same.
How can strengthening the national security can be called communal? The opposition pointed out certain clauses that have been included in the amendment and raised objections. When the scope of investigation has been expanded to human trafficking, terror funding, fake currency, cyber security and the sale of prohibited arms, how can such investigations be branded as against the interest of the nation? How can it be subjected to being communal? Is it prudent to label such issues as divisive and minority persecution and give it a religious colour?
Further, the opposition parties unite when claiming that the terror has no religion. No one can deny on this universal truth by any yard stick. Then how anti-terror measures affect a particular religion?
Politics dictate various laws in the country. They take different stand while in power and different stand when in opposition. When they are not in power, the parties oppose for the sake of opposition. Congress brought in GST but opposed it after losing power and cried foul and when NDA implemented it. Same is the case for Aaadhar. Even when the “Sedition laws” were implemented, the Congress objected to it. When Congress brought the “Explosive Substances Act” under the preview of NIA there was no hue and cry? But now when the BJP brings in the amendment to further empower the NIA, the grand old party is up against it?
Further history reveals that the country faced some of its worst terror acts whenever certain crucial laws, that were originally brought in to act strictly against the perpetrators, were repealed. It clearly shows that the terrorists were emboldened to act every time when the government repealed a stringent law.
TADA came in to force in 1987 and was repealed in 1995. Subsequently the parliament was attacked in 2001. POTA was brought in 2002 and repealed in 2004. The country witnessed its terror attack - the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed over 160 people. Further the NIA amendment is not draconian. The political parties want to have their own riders for every amendment. If it is not heeded they raise strong objection.
Politicising national security measures is a clear case of political posturing and tantamount to fear mongering. It is a clear case of brazen politicisation as the opposition parties are placing their politics first and not the country.
The political parties must not enforce political difference on security of the country. It is time to set aside the differences and prioritise the national security.