In a bid to give more teeth to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the Lok Sabha on Monday passed the NIA Amendment Bill, 2019. The bill seeks to allow the agency to probe terrorist acts against Indians and Indian interests abroad. However, the bill did not see a smooth passage in the House and faced a widespread criticism from members of opposition parties, including the Congress.
While the Congress accused the government of trying to turn India into a "police state", others allege that the anti-terror law will be misused by the government to target members of a particular community. Some MPs also claimed that the government has been using investigating agencies for "political vendetta".
Meanwhile, the ruckus in the Lok Sabha over the amendment bill forced Union Home Minister Amit Shah to intervene in the matter. The House witnessed a heated debate between the BJP leader and AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, when the latter along with other opposition members heckled BJP’s Satyapal Singh.
Targeting the Congress-led UPA government for repealing the anti-terror act POTA, the Union minister said it was not done because of its alleged misuse but to "save its vote bank". Shah said terror attacks witnessed an upsurge after the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) was repealed resulting in the same UPA government being forced to constitute the NIA after the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
In response to Opposition's claim that the act will be misused to target a particular community, Shah said, "Let me make it clear. The Modi government has no such intention. Its only goal is to finish off terrorism but we will also not look at the religion of the accused while taking action".
Further responding to clarifications sought by certain members including on alleged backlog of cases, he said that there is only one NIA designated court in every state. He said that these courts would only take NIA cases and not others.
This matter should not be linked to Jammu and Kashmir, he replied when a member said that the designated court in the state is in Jammu and claimed it creates hassles for people from other parts of the state.
Referring to the 2007 Samjhauta Express bombings case, the minister claimed that the Congress did a U-turn, arrested innocents and released those nabbed earlier. "Terrorism is neither 'left' nor 'right',” it is terrorism only," he added.
When clarification was sought on whether Pakistan is covered under the proposed law, Shah said although the neighbouring country has not yet signed an international agreement on terrorism related cases, India has "several means including surgical and air strikes to deal with Pakistan". "I am sure that Pakistan would also have to sign that agreement under international pressure," the Home Minister said.
Responding to Manish Tewari's remarks that even the CBI’s constitutional validity is not settled yet, the BJP leader said that the matter is sub-judice and alleged that it was Congress which has misused the CBI.
On fixing time-frame for investigation and prosecution, he said the law takes its own course but still the NIA cases have positive results and 90 per cent success rate. He assured NCPs' Supriya Sule that though cases related to murder of rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare are not under the NIA, justice would be done.
Seeking support of all parties for the bill’s passage, the former BJP chief further said a division in the House on the issue of strengthening the agency will send out a wrong message and boost the morale of terrorists. Parliament should speak in one voice in giving powers to the NIA to send out a message to terrorists and the world, he asserted.