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Why did the J&K government form a new state investigation agency, the SIA?

Some experts say the new J&K State Investigation Agency could improve the quality of investigations and free up the police to focus on law and order. Other say it will repress the people of J&K even more.

November 08, 2021 / 08:28 AM IST
Special operations group of J&K police and army soldiers in Kashmir. (Photo by Irfan Amin Malik)

Special operations group of J&K police and army soldiers in Kashmir. (Photo by Irfan Amin Malik)

Srinagar: In order to swiftly probe and prosecute militancy cases, the government of Jammu and Kashmir on November 1 announced the creation of a new investigating agency, the State Investigation Agency (SIA).

The SIA came into being days after Union Home Minister Amit Shah visited J&K. Shah, during his meeting with security officials in Kashmir, had ordered stern action against militants and directed J&K's security grid to “eliminating terrorism” or take transfer.

Also read: Civilians are soft targets, extremely hard to defend: Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Hooda on Kashmir killings

The National Investigation Agency (NIA), India's counter-terrorist task force, plays an active role in J&K. The NIA has its office in Jammu from where it has been operating, including probing militancy cases in the region. Why then did the government feel the need to create a local investigating agency in the region?

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Former Director General of Police (DGP), J&K, Shesh Paul Vaid told Moneycontrol, “Under NIA Act Section 22 (2), there is a provision that state governments can also have their state investigating agencies. Therefore, it is good to have a specialised indigenous investigating agency... which will improve the quality of investigation.”

Paul added that earlier, militant cases were handled inside police stations by overburdened staff. The specialised agency will now handle such cases. Also, since the NIA is handling cases in militancy-infested regions across the country, the SIA will relieve some of the pressure in J&K.

Defence expert retired Major General G.D. Bakshi told Moneycontrol: “In a place like J&K, it is better to have a state-owned investigating agency which can investigate terrorism tasks more quickly. Most of such cases have to be done in an operational time frame, therefore a state-owned agency is a viable development.”

Major General (Retd) Bakshi, of the J&K Rifles, added that the SIA will take a lot of the load off the NIA which can in turn assist the new agency regularly.

The SIA has been created at a time when J&K has seen no let-up in militancy and attacks. Around 44 killings - which includes 19 militants, 13 civilians and 12 security forces personnel - have been reported in October, the deadliest month of this year so far.

Also read: Kashmiri Pandits say the Valley feels like it did back in the 1990s

Following the string of militant attacks last month, security forces had detained more than 900 alleged militants on suspicion of being ground workers for the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Al-Badr and The Resistance Front (TRF).

The new investigating agency was also created in wake of the termination of government employees for having alleged militant links.

Only a day after the SIA was created to probe militancy cases and links, on November 2, the government of J&K sacked Fayaz Ahmad Lone, a deputy superintendent of jails, and Javid Ahmad Shah, a government school principal in south Kashmir, for having alleged militant links. The government has terminated their services by invoking Article 311 of the Constitution under which no inquiry is conducted before sacking.

Also read: Longest-ever, 17-day encounter continues in J&K, 11 army men perish

NIA in Kashmir

The NIA was created following the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, and the demand for tougher anti-terror laws in the country.

The national agency started its operations in Kashmir after Naeem Khan, a senior separatist leader, allegedly confessed – in a sting operation by a national news channel on May 21, 2017 – to receiving funds from Pakistan to create unrest in the Valley. On July 26, 2017, the Enforcement Directorate arrested Khan and Kashmiri separatist leader Shabir Shah in connection with an August 2005 money-laundering case.

Since 2017, the NIA has been handling high-profile militancy cases, and terror-financing and money-laundering cases with help from the J&K police. For instance, during the past four months, the NIA has conducted around 160 raids across the union territory, mostly in militancy cases.

The Pulwama attack which left more than 40 paramilitary troopers dead in February 2019 was also probed and cracked by the NIA team.

A senior journalist who has been reporting on the security situation in J&K for more than a decade said that SIA has been created to expand the government’s control over the region. "SIA will be the extension of NIA, and it will also relieve J&K police from handling militancy cases, and instead police will be able to focus better on law and order in the region.”

Police personnel at Lambert market in Srinagar. (Photo by Irfan Amin Malik) Police personnel at Lambert Central Market in Srinagar. (Photo by Irfan Amin Malik)

The other view

“Once you proceed with the establishment of a new investigating agency, it is an acknowledgment on the part of the state that previous institutions have failed or could not cope up with the tasks assigned to them,” said Dr Sheikh Showkat Hussain, former head of the department of law and dean of the School of Legal Studies at the Central University of Kashmir. “This is also an acceptance...that the government has failed to contain separatism due to which new institutions are created. The new agency may have also been created to create psychological pressure among people,” Hussain added.

Political parties in J&K, including the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), an amalgam of various political parties seeking the restoration of Article 370, also questioned the need to form a new investigating agency. They alleged that SIA will be used to “repress” the people of J&K further.

In a statement, spokesperson of the PAGD and CPI(M) leader M.Y. Tarigami said the formation of one more agency with unbridled powers is yet another assault on the democratic rights and civil liberties of citizens. “In the name of fighting terrorism, these agencies and laws are being weaponised against the citizens who hold a different viewpoint from the government,” said the PAGD spokesperson.

Former Chief Minister and Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti tweeted: “The only progress GOI made post 5th August has been creating more tools of state suppression to intimidate people into submission & silence. As if ED, CBI, NIA & anti-terror laws weren’t enough, we now have SIA with sweeping powers & impunity to repress people further in J&K.”

Ifra Jan, the additional spokesperson of National Conference, told Moneycontrol that a section of the media has been reporting that everything is fine in Kashmir, but the formation of the SIA indicates that either the government’s previous institutions and tactics have failed or the security apparatus has gone for a toss due to over-centralisation.

“Despite NIA and other central investigating agencies, why is the government creating a state-owned agency in the union territory? The government by creating SIA is admitting that their claims of normalcy are fake and it has also gone back to square one by accepting that only state institutions can properly deal with the situation,” Jan said. Jan added that the new agency will increase fear among the people of J&K.

Senior Congress leader and former union minister Saifuddin Soz said that SIA is similar to the NIA and other investigating agencies. “The goal of the Central government is to pester people of Kashmir for their divergent opinions.”

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on the other hand, has welcomed the creation of the SIA. BJP spokesperson for J&K Altaf Thakur claimed that since a lot of Hawala money cases and militancy cases are being reported in the region, there was a dire need to set up a local investigating agency.

“The new agency will control other investigating agencies to work in one direction so that accountability and transparency is created in the region,” Thakur told Moneycontrol.
Irfan Amin Malik is a freelance journalist based in J&K. He tweets @irfanaminmalik
first published: Nov 6, 2021 07:00 pm
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