- Amid opposition protests, Lok Sabha has recently passed the National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill 2019.
- The bill will now have to be passed in the Rajya Sabha.
What is NIA?
- The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is a central agency, which was formed in 2009 in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack of 2008.
- The agency functions as the Central Counter-Terrorism Law Enforcement Agency in India.
- The NIA can, however, only investigate cases which are listed in the Act’s schedule, which largely deal with the security and integrity of the country.
- Under the current Act, the NIA can investigate offences under the Atomic Energy Act, 1962 and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 (UAPA).
- This means the NIA cannot probe murder and rape cases, which come under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
About the NIA Act, 2008:
- The NIA Act, 2008, provides for a national-level agency (NIA) to investigate and prosecute offences listed in a schedule (scheduled offences).
- Further, the Act allows for creation of Special Courts for the trial of scheduled offences.
- The Act makes NIA the only truly federal agency in the country, along the lines of the FBI in the United States, and more powerful than the CBI.
NIA truly federal and more powerful than CBI:
- The CBI has to seek the permission of a state government before investigating a case against a central government employee in that state. If a crime is committed in a state, it has to wait for that state government or a court to call it in to investigate.
- On the other hand, the NIA act gives the NIA powers to take suo motu cognisance of terrorist activity in any part of India and to register a case, to enter any state without needing permission from its government, and to investigate and arrest people.
Need of the Amendment:
- So far, National Investigation Agency has limited powers and jurisdiction. The bill seeks to broaden the NIA’s powers and can be seen as part of policy of zero tolerance against terrorism.
Changes introduced by the Bill in the existing Act
There are three major amendments to the original NIA Act of 2008.
- Change in the types of offences that can be investigated by NIA: Through this amendment, in addition to offences related to the Atomic Energy Act, 1962 and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 (UAPA), NIA 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
- Till now, the NIA can apply these sections to an accused only if the principal offence is part of its Schedule. Now, it can prosecute people in standalone cases under these Acts.
- For example, a person being prosecuted under UAPA could be slapped with Arms Act sections, but the NIA so far could not prosecute him under the Arms Act alone.
- Expansion of NIA’s jurisdiction:
- Officers of the agency now have the power to investigate scheduled offences committed outside India.
- The Bill allows the agency to register a case when Indians living abroad or India’s assets based in a foreign country come under attack from terrorists.
- The new provision will allow the NIA to register cases if an Indian embassy comes under attack abroad, or if Indian underwater cables of communication in international waters are sabotaged.
Note: The IPC does have provisions of extra-territorial jurisdiction, but it is limited to Indians committing crime abroad.
- Powers to the government to designate sessions courts as special courts for trial of NIA cases.:
- 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.
- Earlier, setting up special courts in any state was a time taking procedure that would take six to nine months atleast . With existing sessions courts allowed to function as special courts, trial can start immediately.