The Rajya Sabha on Wednesday unanimously passed the National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill 2019, even as Left members staged a walkout demanding that the legislation be sent to a Parliamentary panel for scrutiny.
The Bill grants NIA powers to conduct investigations outside India and widens its mandate to probe human trafficking, counterfeit currency, manufacture or sale of prohibited arms, cyber terrorism and offences under the Explosive Substances Act, 1908.
Barring a minor exchange between Home Minister Amit Shah and Congress MP Abhishek Singhvi over lack of prosecution in the 2007 Samjhauta Express blasts case, the Bill was cleared without any opposition in Rajya Sabha — it had faced six no’s in the Lok Sabha. In the last five years, Bills have tended to sail through Lok Sabha but stumbled in the Upper House.
Opposition sources said that a decision was taken to let the Bill through to deny the government a chance to target the Opposition by accusing it of lack of commitment on issues of national security. “We have given them what they wanted. Now after two years we will ask them how many countries has the NIA caught criminals from,” an Opposition MP said.
In his brief reply, Shah refuted Singhvi’s charge that the NIA is an inefficient organisation and asked him not to present incorrect data that would denigrate the country’s premiere investigation agency. “You would have done better by not raising the Samjhauta issue. The chargesheet was filed during your time. The prosecution did not happen because the very foundation was weak. The chargesheet was weak because you changed the direction of investigations overnight to implicate a certain community even after our own and US agencies made six arrests. We did not appeal because these decisions are taken based on the opinion of law officers. This government goes by the opinion of law officers, not political expediency.”
Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien said, “The first terrorist of independent India was the man who picked up a gun and shot the Father of the Nation. And today, in these very corridors, that man is hailed as a patriot…I do not want to talk about left-wing extremism because then I would also need to talk about right-wing extremism…but what I want to know from the minister is that will Pakistan sign this treaty? Will Pakistan give us access?”
Replying to the TMC member’s barbs about “visits to Pakistan to have veg Biryani”, Shah said, “Derek O’Brien has left after speaking, as is his wont… but I want to tell him… do you remember what happened after the Uri terror attack. We carried out surgical strikes, we hit them in their homes.”
Singhvi and his party colleague Vivek Tankha pointed out that the courts are already overburdened and their vacancies mounting. The practicality of setting up special courts is questionable, Singhvi said, as nearly a third of the 1,000 posts approved for judges in high courts are vacant.
SP’s Ramgopal Yadav advised caution, saying the Bill is at cross-purposes with the laws of natural justice and that an innocent should not be punished even if several hundred criminals walk free. “It is about human rights… the person wrongfully accused of terror even after he walks free has not only lost years of his life but has already been tagged as a terrorist by society,” Yadav said.
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