SPEAKING DURING a debate on a Bill that seeks to give more powers to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), Home Minister Amit Shah told the Lok Sabha on Monday that the government would use the NIA Act to “finish terrorism” and not “misuse” it to target any community. The House later passed the Bill, with 278 votes in favour of it and six against.
Shah also said that repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) was a bad move, and the Congress had taken the decision to save its “vote bank”. He said if POTA had not been repealed, the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai may not have happened.
The Bill saw acrimonious debate in the House with Opposition members accusing the government of derailing terror cases against Hindutva activists and turning India into a “police state”. Shah said the nation must know “who are the people standing against terrorism, and who are standing by it”.
“Although (MoS Home G Kishan) Reddyji will give a detailed reply, some important issues have been raised by members to which I feel I must respond. Questions have been raised on the issue of misuse of the Act and about some religions. I assure the House that the Modi government has no intention to misuse this Act. But it will be used to finish terrorism, and we will not see religion in that,” Shah said.
Some members raised the issue of TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act) and POTA having been allegedly misused, and pointed out that they were later repealed.
“They were not repealed for misuse. POTA was repealed for vote bank. It was repealed by Congress in 2004. It was a political move. You want to do politics, it’s okay. But don’t use the forum of Parliament for it,” Shah said.
“Repealing POTA was not the right move. It’s not just me, even people in the security establishment believe this. Because of repeal of POTA, terrorism increased in the next few years, and we had the 26/11 attacks. The Congress was forced to bring in the NIA Act. Had POTA not been repealed, the Mumbai attacks would probably not have happened,” he said.
Opposing the Bill, AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi said only one community was targeted in terror investigations, and asked Shah why the NIA had not filed appeals against the acquittal of those accused in Hindutva terror cases. “NIA is not appealing because the victims are Muslims,” he said.
“Owaisi Saheb is unaware that action has been taken even against Tamil organisations involved in terror activities… When we make such arguments, we boost the morale of terrorists,” replied Shah.
During passage of the Bill, which was put to voice vote by Speaker Om Birla, Owaisi repeatedly demanded division.
“There must be division on this issue. The nation must come to know who are the people standing against terrorism and who are standing by it,” Shah responded.
When NC MP Hasnain Masoodi raised the issue of personal liberty, Shah said: “You are worried about personal liberty, and not worried about those who have become widows because of terrorism. Do not spread such propaganda.”
Congress leader of the house Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury asked how the government intended to probe cases in Pakistan. Shah said the NIA’s powers would draw from various international conventions, like the SAARC convention against terrorism. “Pakistan is not a signatory to it… But it will eventually have to sign it. And to deal with Pakistan, we have other ways too, such as surgical strike and air strike,” he said.
Congress member Manish Tewari raised the issue of the NIA Act being caught in a legal battle over its validity. He said the CBI had also been declared illegal by a court.
What are the changes
Under the NIA (Amendment) Bill, 2019, the agency can investigate terror attacks on Indians or Indian facilities abroad. The government can designate any sessions court as an NIA special court. Additionally, the NIA can also investigate offences under the Explosive Substances Act, Atomic Energy Act, manufacture or sale of prohibited arms and cyber-terrorism.
“If CBI was illegal Manishji, you would have had the maximum problem. No one has misused the CBI as much as the Congress,” replied Shah.
Some members referred to the 2008 Malegaon blast case and the allegations by then special public prosecutor Rohini Salian that the NIA had asked her to go slow.
“The matter is sub-judice, so we cannot comment on it,” said MoS (Home) Reddy.
On fears that the NIA Act violates the federal structure, Reddy said, “NIA only takes up cases of inter-state jurisdiction, and even that is done after discussion with states. We never go without informing the state. Speak to your DGPs and they will tell you.”