NIA building at lodhi road in new Delhi. Express Photo by Prem Nath Pandey. 10.10.2017.
The central leadership of the Congress has backed the legal challenge mounted by the party’s government in Chhattisgarh to The National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act, 2008, enacted when the UPA was in power. AICC general secretary in-charge of Chhattisgarh P L Punia told The Indian Express that the Act has undergone “drastic change” as a result of amendments brought last year.
“It is no more the same Act. After the amendment by the NDA government, it no longer remains the same NIA. It has undergone a drastic change. That is why it has been challenged and rightly challenged,” Punia said.
The NIA Act was enacted in the aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008. A decade later, the Act was amended with the objective of speedy investigation and prosecution of certain offences, including those committed outside India. The National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was passed by Lok Sabha on July 15, 2019, and by Rajya Sabha on July 17, 2019.
Punia said the amendment had made the NIA “a parallel police structure”, and the amended Act “has gone against the federal structure of the Constitution”.
The original Act of 2008 itself had given the NIA powers to supersede the state police in the investigation and trial of terror-related offences. Also, the Chhattisgarh government’s petition has challenged the original Act, and not the amended law.
NIA Act: The 2019 amendment in the law focussed on three main areas.
OFFENCES OUTSIDE INDIA: The original Act allowed NIA to investigate and prosecute offences within India. The amended Act empowered the agency to investigate offences committed outside India, subject to international treaties and domestic laws of other countries. The amended section reads: “Where the Central Government is of the opinion that a Scheduled Offence has been committed at any place outside India to which this Act extends, it may direct the Agency to register the case and take up investigation as if such offence has been committed in India.” The NIA special court in New Delhi will have jurisdiction over these cases.
WIDENED SCOPE OF LAW: The NIA can investigate and prosecute offences under the Acts specified in the Schedule of the NIA Act. The Schedule originally had The Atomic Energy Act, 1962, The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, and The Anti-Hijacking Act, 1982, among other entries. The amendment has allowed the NIA to investigate, in addition, cases related to (i) human trafficking, (ii) counterfeit currency or banknotes, (iii) manufacture or sale of prohibited arms, (iv) cyber-terrorism, and (v) offences under the Explosive Substances Act, 1908.
SPECIAL COURTS: The 2008 Act constituted Special Courts for conducting the trial of offences under the Act. The 2019 amendment allowed the central government to designate Sessions Courts as Special Courts for the trial of scheduled offences under the Act. The central government is required to consult the Chief Justice of the High Court under which the Sessions Court is functioning, before designating it as a Special Court. When more than one Special Court has been designated for any area, the seniormost judge will distribute cases among the courts. State governments too, may also designate Sessions Courts as Special Courts for the trial of scheduled offences.
— PRS Legislative Research