NEW DELHI :
In a big push for India’s national security, the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday unanimously passed the National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2019.
The bill’s uncontested passage in the Upper House marks a sharp change from the discussions in the Lok Sabha on Monday, when the government and the Opposition sparred over the validity of the proposed amendments in the bill and how far the proposed law will be able to check terrorism.
Eventually, there were six voices of dissent in the Lok Sabha, and none in the Rajya Sabha.
While Opposition parties raised doubts over the possible misuse of the bill, Union home minister Amit Shah told the Rajya Sabha: “I assure the House that the bill will not be misused under any circumstances. If the country does not vouch for the efficiency of the NIA, how will it hold any standing globally? Both Houses need to prove to the world and the terrorists that we are united in this fight."
Shah added that the proposed amendments would further empower the country to fight terror—as was evident in the fact that out of the 195 cases with the agency since 2014, chargesheets had been filed in 129 cases, with 41 convictions.
Minister of state for home affairs G. Kishen Reddy told the House that since the inception of the NIA in 2009 to 2014, the agency had registered 80 cases, out of which judgement was passed in 38 cases, while 36 cases resulted in convictions. Reddy however, added that since Prime Minister Narendra Modi had assumed office in 2014, the agency had registered 195 cases—a huge jump from the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s numbers.
The Congress party, while reaffirming its stand for strengthening national security, pointed out gaps in the proposed amendments, reiterating that none of the major cases—such as the Samjhauta Express blast, Ajmer Dargah bombing, Malegaon blast and the Sohrabuddin encounter case – had reached a conclusive end.
“Section 4 of the amendment adds that the agency wants to go abroad and conduct investigations as they do in India. First of all, they don’t have the treaties to catch any person abroad without going through the local police force. Have you heard of that happening in India? So, in practical effect, they will have zero power, but they will show India that they have done something great," said senior Congress leader and member of Parliament (MP) Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
The bill now awaits President Ramnath Kovind’s nod.
The NIA was set up in 2009 following the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks by Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which killed 166 people.
On Monday, the Lok Sabha passed the bill with the Opposition red flagging concerns over the potential misuse of the proposed law against certain communities.
The bill was passed with 278 members in favour of it, while six members opposed it.
The bill proposes three major amendments to the NIA Bill of 2008. The first focuses on providing the NIA with more teeth to investigate cases pertaining to human trafficking, counterfeit currency, manufacture or sale of prohibited arms, cyber-terrorism, and offences under the Explosive Substances Act, 1908.
The bill also seeks to expand the agency’s jurisdiction to investigate offences committed outside India, such as the Easter day bombings in Sri Lanka.
Finally, it proposes to allow the central government to constitute special courts for NIA trials.
As of now, the NIA is designated to probe cases of terrorism within the country. With the amendments cleared by both Houses of Parliament, the NIA will be able to probe cases of cybercrime and human trafficking as well.
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.