The Centre on Monday introduced the National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2019, in Lok Sabha, saying the proposed legislation aims at broadening the NIA’s investigating powers, a part of its policy of zero tolerance against terrorism. While Minister of State (MoS) for Home G Kishan Reddy sought support of all parties for the passage of the bill in national interest, Congress leader Manish Tewari accused the government of trying to turn India into a "police state".
Reddy told the House that the new law will allow the NIA to probe cases of terrorism targeting Indians and Indian assets abroad, and also empower the agency to investigate cases of arms and human trafficking besides those linked to cyber terrorism. "We want to fight terrorism with zero tolerance and have brought this bill in national interest. I pray to all of you for its passage," he said.
Tewari, however, opposed the bill, saying probe agencies are misused for "political vendetta" and "inspired media leaks" from them have turned the maxim of "innocent until proven guilty" on its head. He also claimed that the constitutional validity of the NIA Act, which led to the investigation agency’s formation, is still not settled as pleas challenging its validity are pending in different courts.
Earlier, several opposition members, including NK Premachandran and Saugata Roy, questioned the government’s decision to push for a discussion amid the ongoing budget-related debates but Speaker Om Birla ruled that a debate can start.
Reddy said the NIA has been doing a good work and secured conviction in over 90 per cent of cases. It has so far registered 272 cases out of which judgement has been delivered in 52, he added. Appropriate punishment to the accused at times is not meted out to criminals involved in human trafficking, he said, pitching for the NIA to probe these cases.
With terrorism having international dimensions, he said it is imperative that the NIA is empowered to probe incidents of terrorism targeting Indians, the Indian embassy and other assets abroad.
Tewari said India’s founding fathers have given primacy to civil liberties as they had seen that many criminal laws were brought in by the British to keep Indians suppressed. When investigation agencies are seen as being misused for political vendetta, then there is a fundamental problem with a bill that seeks to empower a probe body, he said.
Tewari though added that his allegation is not aimed at any particular government and is generic. He also demanded a separation between investigation and prosecution wings for a fair probe, accusing the government of seeking to turn the country into a police state, and said its ramifications will last beyond its tenure.
The NIA was set up in 2009 following the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, when 10 members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamic terrorist organisation based in Pakistan, carried out 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting for four days across the city. The attacks, which drew widespread global condemnation, claimed 166 lives and left over 300 wounded.