The Rajya Sabha on Wednesday passed a Bill that gives more powers to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and opposition Congress renewing their dispute over the issue of so called ‘saffron terror’ in the context of the Samjhauta Express blasts of 2007.
While the opposition could not stand united to have the House refer the Bill to a select committee, several of its members flagged concerns about its potential misuse against minorities.
Left MPs staged a walkout when Shah started replying to the debate, demanding the House refer the bill to a select committee. The Rajya Sabha passed the bill by a voice vote. The Lok Sabha had passed it on Monday.
Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi pointed out some of the loopholes in the proposed law. He also said the NIA decision to not appeal against the court verdict in the Samjhauta case was based on “extraneous grounds”.
Shah defended the government for not filing an appeal against the acquittal of all four accused, including the radical right-wing's Swami Aseemanand. He said the four were charge-sheeted by the previous Congress government because of “political vendetta” and without proof.
The bill amends the NIA Act of 2008, and would now provide NIA the power to additionally probe terrorist acts against Indians and Indian interests abroad, cybercrimes, cases of human trafficking and allow for designating a sessions court as a special court to try NIA cases.
Shah disagreed with Singhvi that NIA is ineffective. He said since 2014, a total of 195 cases were registered by NIA, of which charge sheet was filed in 129. Of these 129, judgement has come in 44 cases. In 41 cases, culprits have been punished, he said adding in these cases "184 accused have been convicted." He said the proposed law will be used to target terrorist activities and not used against any particular community.
Singhvi said it was “unfortunate” that politics has been played out on the issue. He also read out a statement by Narendra Modi, who was then the Gujarat chief minister, at a BJP national executive meeting in June 2011 where he had termed the original NIA Act as “contrary to the federal spirit”.
The original NIA Act mandated constituting of special courts for trying NIA cases, but the amendment provides for “a court of session designated as special court” to hear NIA cases. Singhvi said this would put further pressure on already stretched session courts, and lead to delays. He said there were 33 percent vacancies in the lower level judiciary and over 2.5 crore pending cases.
Singhvi said some of the amendments were vague, particularly where it allows the NIA to prosecute those who commit offences against “the interest of India”. He said this gives police discretion, and should have been more specific to prevent misuse.
The Congress MP said another amendment seeks to give NIA powers to investigate abroad “subject to any international treaty or domestic law of the concerned country, outside India”. He said this provision was only good for “jingoistic chest thumping”, and was “meaningless” since India hardly has any such treaties with other countries.
Trinamool Congress member Derek O’Brien said the NIA must not become yet another ally of the government, as have some other central probe agencies, to settle scores with political rivals. “NIA should not become the ‘national interference agency,” O’Brien said.
Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Manoj Jha cautioned against the government adopting ‘McCarthyism’, where people were arrested in the US in the 1940s and 1950s based on suspicion and no evidence. He said the absolute majority that the government enjoys could lead it to the temptation of turning India into a “police state”. “Please resist this greed,” he said. Members also said such laws should not kill the spirit of federalism.