he Union cabinet on Monday approved amendments to the law to bolster the National Investigation Agency (NIA), increasing the ambit and scope of its investigations in India and abroad.
Separate bills are likely to be introduced in Parliament during the ongoing session to amend the National Investigation Agency Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), said a person familiar with the development.
As of now, the NIA is designated to probe cases of terrorism within the country. Once the amendments are cleared by both Houses of Parliament, it will allow the NIA to probe cases of cybercrime and human trafficking as well, said the person cited above.
The amendment is significant as the agency has been closely tracking the development of Islamic State (IS) modules in the country, especially in the wake of the Easter Day bombings in Sri Lanka.
The proposed amendment to Schedule 4 of the UAPA will allow the NIA to designate an individual suspected to have terror links as a terrorist. As of now, the NIA can only designate groups as “terrorist organizations".
Officials from the home ministry, including the NIA, declined to comment on the matter.
The NIA was set up in 2009 following the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks which killed 166 people, with the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) claiming responsibility.
The agency has also been probing terror funding in Jammu and Kashmir. Last week, the agency stated it had gathered damning evidence of Pakistan’s involvement in the unrest in Kashmir with Masarat Alam, general secretary of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, confessing during custodial interrogation that “Pakistan-based agents route the funds through hawala operators" which is “transferred to separatist leaders, including Syed Ali Shah Geelani, leader of the Hurriyat Conference".
The proposal to amend both the NIA Act (2008) and the UAPA has been in the pipeline since 2017, with the home ministry under the previous government mulling granting greater muscle power to the NIA to investigate cases.
Another proposal to introduce a bill to extend the facility of proxy voting to Indians living abroad could not be taken up by the cabinet on Monday. A similar bill had lapsed following the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha last month.
The bill seeks to give them the option of proxy voting, which as of now is only available to service personnel.
Another proposal to amend the Representation of the People Act related to the spouses of service voters could not be taken up on Monday.
As of now, an armyman’s wife is entitled to be enrolled as a service voter, but a female army officer’s husband is not.
The bill proposes to replace the term “wife" with “spouse", thus making the provision gender-neutral.
Members of the armed forces, central armed police forces, personnel of state police forces posted outside their state and employees of the centre posted outside India are eligible to be enrolled as service voters.
Press Trust of India contributed to this story.