The National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill 2019 was passed in the Lok Sabha on July 15. Home Minister Amit Shah, during the debate on the Bill in the Lower House, had said that "terrorism has no religion, no caste and no gender".
"It (terrorism) is against humanity. The government will take all stakeholders along in fighting terrorism in a zero-tolerance policy," Shah had said.
The debate had attained political hues, with the Opposition stating that the passing of the Bill would mean that the country would turn into a police state. Here's taking a look at what the Bill seeks, and the concerns raised regarding its passing.
What is the NIA?
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is a central agency, which was formed in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack of 2008. According to its website, the agency functions as the Central Counter-Terrorism Law Enforcement Agency in India.
The NIA has registered and investigated 244 cases till date. Under the current Act, the NIA can investigate offences under the Atomic Energy Act, 1962 and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 (UAPA).
What are the changes introduced by the Bill in the existing Act?
There are three major amendments to the original NIA Act of 2008, according to PRS Legislative Research.
The first is the change in the types of offences that can be investigated by NIA.
Apart from those under the Atomic Energy Act and the UAPA, the NIA, through this amendment, will be able to investigate offences related to human trafficking, counterfeit currency or bank notes, manufacture or sale of prohibited arms, cyber-terrorism, and offences under the Explosive Substances Act, 1908.
The second change is the expansion of NIA's jurisdiction. Officers of the agency now have the power to investigate scheduled offences committed outside India. Shah, during his reply to the debate in Lok Sabha, had cited instances such as the recent terror attack in Sri Lanka to justify the provision.
The third change, according to PRS, refers to the special courts. While the existing Act allows the Centre to constitute special courts for NIA trials, the amendment enables the Centre to designate sessions courts as special courts for the trial of scheduled offences.
Why is the Opposition against the Bill?
Technically speaking, it isn't. Not after the July 15 vote, wherein only six dissenting votes were registered after Shah called for a division, saying that it will make it evident who is against the strengthening of national security.
However, during the discussion, Congress leader Manish Tewari said that providing sweeping powers to police officers is not advisable at a time when the central agencies were being "misused" for political vendetta.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi said that one "cannot have such a vague definition of national interests in a bill".
"What powers are you giving to an NIA officer when you send him abroad to investigate someone? Don't compare us to the US and Israel and intrude on other people's sovereignty..." Owaisi said, adding that the two countries he mentioned are not democracies "in the ideal sense".
The Bill will now have to pass the scrutiny in Rajya Sabha, where the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is in minority.