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Bill’s in: 180 days no bail, Naxals also ‘terrorists’

With the chorus for tough anti-terror laws growing after the Mumbai terror strikes...

Maneesh Chhibber & Tannu Sharmanew Delhi |
December 17, 2008 9:25:54 am

With the chorus for tough anti-terror laws growing after the Mumbai terror strikes, the Government today introduced two Bills providing for a National Investigating Agency (NIA) to probe terror cases across the country and proposing deterrent provisions like detention without bail up to 180 days and up to life imprisonment for those involved in terror acts. For foreign nationals accused, detention can be indefinite.

The NIA Bill, 2008 and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2008, tabled by Home Minister P Chidambaram in the Lok Sabha a day after the Cabinet cleared the measures, extend definition of terrorism to militancy, insurgency and Naxal extremism.

The NIA Bill empowers the agency at the Central level to probe terrorism and crimes with national ramifications such as challenges to the country’s sovereignty and integrity, bomb blasts, hijacking of aircraft and ships and attacks on nuclear installations.

Sources told The Indian Express that provisions which put the onus on the accused to prove his innocence and allowed confessions before the police to be used as evidence — these were part of the Home Ministry’s original draft — were dropped following opposition by some ruling alliance partners and a few Congress ministers. The proposed measures provide for constitution of special courts to try offences under the NIA Bill and to provide for summary trial.

Under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, preventive detention of an accused can extend up to 180 days instead of 90 days as at present and no accused can be given bail without the prosecution being heard. Further bail can also be denied if the court feels that the charges against the accused are prima facie true.

Foreign nationals who have entered the country illegally and are being accused under this law shall be denied bail.

Under the Bill, courts are empowered to presume the accused guilty of terrorism if arms or explosives have been recovered from him and there is reason to believe that these could or were used or his fingerprints or any other evidence was found at the scene of crime.

Raising funds for terror acts will attract punishment of a five-year term which may extend to imprisonment for life with fine. Similarly, the punishment for organising terrorist camps and recruitment of people will be a minimum five-year term or maximum of life imprisonment with fine.

The Central government will have the power to freeze, seize or attach funds and other financial assets of individuals or entities listed as terrorists and those who are suspected to be involved in terrorism.

The NIA, which will be headed by a Director General, will not be able to take up suo motu investigation of any terrorism-related incident without prior approval of the Union Home Ministry. The Central government will have 15 days to decide whether any case brought to its notice by a state government needs to be investigated by the NIA. Until then, the local police will be expected to investigate the matter on their own.

The Bill makes it mandatory for the state government where the case is under investigation to extend all assistance and cooperation to the NIA. It envisages setting up of special courts to try terror-related cases. The Supreme Court will have the power to transfer a case from one special court to another.

Other provisions include protection of witnesses by keeping their identity and address secret, holding in-camera trial, appointment of special prosecutors, fast-track trial and appeal against decision of a special court to lie with the state High Court. The NIA will investigate cases under the Atomic Energy Act, 1962, specific Acts for investigation, UNPA, Anti-Hijacking Act, 1982, Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against Safety of Civil Aviation Act, 1982, SAARC Convention on (Suppression of Terrorism) Act, 1993, Weapons of Mass Destruction and Their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act, 2005, etc.

Introducing the Bills, Chidambaram said these had been brought forward as the country was a victim of large-scale terrorism sponsored from across the border. “There have been innumerable incidents of terrorist attacks, not only in militancy and insurgency-affected areas and those affected by Left wing extremism but also in the form of terrorist attacks and bomb blasts in various parts of the hinterland and major cities,” he said.

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