Context: The changes proposed in ‘The National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2019’.

National Investigation Agency (NIA):

  • The National Investigation Agency was set up in 2009 in the wake of the Mumbai terror attack through NIA Act, 2008.
  • It provides for a national-level agency to investigate and prosecute offences listed in a schedule (schedule offences).
  • Under the existing Act, the NIA can investigate offences under Acts such as the Atomic Energy Act, 1962 and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967.

NIA aims to:

  • Be a thoroughly professional investigative agency matching the best international standards.
  • Set the standards of excellence in counter terrorism and other national security related investigations at the national level by developing into a highly trained, partnership oriented workforce.
  • Create deterrence for existing and potential terrorist groups/individuals.
  • Develop as a storehouse of all terrorist related information.

The key features of the “The National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2019”:

  • The National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was introduced in Lok Sabha.
  • The Bill seeks to enable the NIA to additionally investigate the following offences:
  • human trafficking
    • offences related to counterfeit currency or bank notes
    • manufacture or sale of prohibited arms,
    • cyber-terrorism, and
    • offences under the Explosive Substances Act, 1908.       
  • Jurisdiction of the NIA: The officers of the NIA have the same powers as other police officers and extend across India. The bill amends to give NIA officers the power to investigate scheduled offences committed outside India, subject to international treaties and domestic laws of other countries.  
  • Special Courts: The Act allows the central government to constitute Special Courts for the trial of scheduled offences. The bill enables the central government to 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.

Challenges to national investigating agency:

  • Offenses: offenses to investigate were increased in the bill. To investigate cyber-crimes, need skilled manpower and ethical hackers. Even though cyber policy came in 2013 still no measures taken to create skilled manpower
  • Special courts: Across India’s subordinate courts-the first port-of-call for most cases- more than a third of the 31 million cases have been pending for more than three years. Verdict on kathua case came after 18 months. Although special courts will speed up judgments but filling up the vacancies of judiciary is a challenge in present times.
  • State subject: police, law and order are state subjects. If NIA get the same power as state police there will be clash of administration and chances are there that state police agencies will not support NIA team for investigation.

Other Anti-terror laws in India:

  • TADA:
    The Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987, was at one time the main law used in cases of terrorism and organised crime, but due to rampant misuse, it was allowed to lapse in 1995. The Act defined a “terrorist act” and “disruptive activities”, put restrictions on the grant of bail, and gave enhanced power to detain suspects and attach properties. The law made a confession before a police officer admissible as evidence. Separate courts were set up to hear cases filed under TADA.
  • POTA:
    In wake of the 1999 IC-814 hijack and 2001 Parliament attack, there was a clamour for a more stringent anti-terror law, which came in the form of The Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), 2002. A suspect could be detained for up to 180 days by a special court. The law made fundraising for the purpose of terrorism a “terrorist act”. A separate chapter to deal with terrorist organisations was included. The Union government could add or remove any organisation from the schedule. However, reports of gross misuse of the Act by some state governments led to its repeal in 2004.
  • UAPA:
    In 2004, the government chose to strengthen The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. It was amended to overcome some of the difficulties in its enforcement and to update it in accordance with international commitments. By inserting specific chapters, the amendment criminalised the raising of funds for a terrorist act, holding of the proceeds of terrorism, membership of a terrorist organisation, support to a terrorist organisation, and the raising of funds for a terrorist organisation. It increased the time available to law-enforcement agencies to file a charge sheet to six months from three.

Way forward: In the present globalised world, security threats (direct & indirect) are manifold. In this context it is desirable to equip NIA with more teeth by taking states on board. NIA has to be a highly professional body with proper accountability and can be an agency for international collaboration.

https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/editorial/the-terror-debate/article28595143.ece