NIA Bill passed, but concerns remain

NIA Bill passed, but concerns remain

Union Home Minister Amit Shah with BJP MP Bhupendra Yadav during the Budget Session at Parliament, in New Delhi on July 10, 2019. PTI

The debate on the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha, rather than the voting position on it in the House, reflected the concerns over the Bill among a large section of people in the country. The Bill, which seeks to give more powers to the agency, was passed in the Lok Sabha with an overwhelming majority of 278 votes in its favour and six against it, and it has now been passed by the Rajya Sabha, too. That is a near unanimous passage, with almost all parties supporting it, but during the debate most speakers from the Opposition criticised it, and many thought that the provisions brought in by the amendment were unnecessary, draconian or liable to be misused. Though they and their parties, including the Congress, felt so, they did not have the moral or political courage to vote against the Bill because they thought the BJP would brand them as anti-national and supporters of terrorism if they did so. Home Minister Amit Shah said so clearly when he said that if there was no unanimity, it would give strength to terrorists. It was a case of the BJP writing a script, and other parties finding themselves unable to stand up and counter it, though they did not agree with it.

The Bill strengthens and widens the scope of the NIA. It empowers the agency to probe offences related to cybercrimes, human trafficking, counterfeit currency, etc., and acts of terror targeting Indians and Indian assets abroad. Some of these offences may not be terrorism-related. If they are related to terrorism, the NIA can probe them even without the amendment. The charge that the NIA and the wider mandate for it may be misused is relevant in this context. Shah denied it, but the NIA’s treatment of cases like those related to Malegaon blasts belies that claim. Congress member Manish Tewari even said the government was trying to turn the country into a police state, but he and his party still voted for the bill.

The government swore by its zero tolerance of terrorism and Shah even said that the draconian and anti-democratic Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) should not have been repealed. It is not realised that strengthening the law against terrorism, which generally curtails the freedoms of citizens, does not help to eliminate terrorism. When the government arms itself with more and more stringent powers to fight terrorism, it usually creates a police state that dispenses State terror. It does not help, too, when it judges terror with different yardsticks, even as it claims, as Shah did, that terror has no religion. Though some of these concerns were voiced in the House, the parties failed to stand by them.