27th July – The terrorist tag : on the latest amendments to the NIA Act

Lok Sabha has recently amended the NIA Act to introduce few changes in the mandate of the National Investigative Agency.

NIA Act

Key amendments 

  • The Bill amends the NIA Act, 2008 and provides for a national-level agency to investigate and prosecute offences listed in a schedule (scheduled offences).
  • It allows for the creation of Special Courts for the trial of scheduled offences which include offences under Acts such as the Atomic Energy Act, 1962, and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967.
  • As per the Bill, the NIA will now have the power to investigate the following offences, in addition: (i) human trafficking, (ii) offences related to counterfeit currency or banknotes, (iii) manufacture or sale of prohibited arms, (iv) cyber-terrorism, and (v) offences under the Explosive Substances Act, 1908.
  • The officers of the NIA have the same powers as other police officers in relation to the investigation of such offences, across India. In addition, officers of the NIA will have the power to investigate scheduled offences committed outside India, subject to international treaties and domestic laws of other countries.
  • The Bill states that the central and state governments may designate Sessions Courts as Special Courts for the trial of scheduled offences.

Concern of the terrorist tag –

  • The idea of designating an individual as a terrorist, as the latest amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act propose to do, may appear innocuous.
  • The practice of designating individuals under anti-terrorism laws, prevalent in several countries, is seen as being necessary because banned groups tend to change their names and continue to operate.
  • However, there is no set procedure for designating an individual a terrorist. Parliament must consider whether an individual can be called a ‘terrorist’ prior to conviction in a court of law.
  • The absence of a judicial determination may render the provision vulnerable to invalidation.
  • There ought to be a distinction between an individual and an organisation, as the former enjoys the right to life and liberty.
  • The likely adverse consequences of a terrorist tag may be worse for individuals than for organisations. Further, individuals may be subjected to arrest and detention; even after obtaining bail from the courts, they may have their travel and movements restricted, besides carrying the taint. This makes it vital that individuals have a faster means of redress than groups.
  • Just as any organisation getting the tag, individuals, too, will have to apply to the Centre to get their names removed.

Other concerns –

  • It has been argued by some members in Parliament that the Bill contains anti-federal features. The provision to empower the head of the National Investigation Agency to approve the forfeiture of property of those involved in terrorism cases obviously overrides a function of the State government.
  • There will be a section allowing NIA Inspectors to investigate terrorism cases, as against a Deputy Superintendent of Police or an Assistant Commissioner. This significantly enhances the scope for misuse.

Conclusion –

While none will question the need for stringent laws that show ‘zero tolerance’ towards terrorism, the government should be mindful of its obligations to preserve fundamental rights while enacting legislation on the subject.

SourceThe Hindu

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