New Delhi: The government on Monday assured that it would never abuse the NIA law to target anyone even as it asserted that it would ensure that terrorism is finished off in the country, irrespective of the “religion of the accused”.
Seeking to give more teeth to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), Lok Sabha on Monday passed a Bill to allow it to probe terrorist acts against Indians and Indian interests abroad, cybercrimes and cases of human trafficking.
In an intervention during the discussion on National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2019, home minister Amit Shah said Parliament should speak in one voice in giving powers to the NIA to send out a message to terrorists and the world. Some MPs said the anti-terror law is misused at times to target members of a particular community.
“Let me make it clear the Modi government has no such intention. Its only goal is to finish off terrorism... we will also not look at the religion of the accused while taking action,” Mr Shah said.
While the government maintained that broadening the NIA’s powers through the legislation was essential for implementing its zero-tolerance policy against terrorism, the Opposition claimed that it would end up turning India into a “police state”.
The Congress’ MP Manish Tewari said that providing the NIA with sweeping powers was not desirable at a time when probe agencies were being “misused by the centre for political vendetta”. He also claimed that an amendment should not be made when the constitutional validity of the original NIA Act was being challenged in various courts.
The Bill was subsequently passed by a division vote in which 278 MPs voted in favour and only 6 voted against it. During his intervention, Mr Shah also targeted the earlier UPA government for repealing the anti-terror act POTA, and insisted that it was not done because of its alleged misuse but to save its vote bank.
The division voting, which was asked for by AIMIM member Asaduddin Owaisi, was not bereft of drama as Mr Shah said division must be allowed as it would be clear who all voted in favour of terrorism and who opposed it.
Soon Congress MPs were seen conferring among themselves and Congress leader of the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, and DMK leader T.R. Balu said there was no need for a division vote as it was a UPA Bill and they were not opposing.
However, Speaker Om Birla ruled that since he had already allowed it, division voting would take place.
During his intervention, Mr Shah contended that terror attacks witnessed an upsurge after the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) was repealed, resulting in the same UPA government being forced to constitute the NIA after the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
The NIA was set up in 2009 in the wake of the Mumbai terror attack that had claimed 166 lives.
Several Opposition MPs who participated in the discussion criticised the Bill and accused the government of using investigating agencies for “political vendetta”.
Some MPs said the anti-terror law is misused at times to target members of a particular community.
To this Mr Shah replied, “Let me make it clear. The Modi government has no such intention. Its only goal is to finish off terrorism… Terrorism is neither ‘left’ nor ‘right’, it is terrorism only.”
During Lok Sabha campaigning, and in the context of Malegaon blast case accuse, Pragya Thakur, being nominated as the BJP’s candidate from Bhopal, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had, at a rally in Wardha in Maharashtra, criticised the Congress for coining the term “Hindu terror”, and said, “Congress used the term ‘Hindu terror’...it labelled the peace-loving Hindus as terrorists...is there a single incident of Hindu terrorism?”
In Lok Sabha, on being asked whether Pakistan was covered under the proposed law, Mr Shah said although the neighbouring country has not yet signed an international agreement on terrorism related cases, India has “several means, including surgical and air strikes, to deal with Pakistan”.
“I am sure that Pakistan would also have to sign that agreement under international pressure”.
The heated debate also witnessed Mr Shah and Mr Owaisi getting involved in a verbal spat.
The Hyderabad MP objected to certain comments made the BJP MP from Baghpat, Satya Pal Singh, during the course of the discussion on NIA (Amendment) Bill. Mr Owaisi also objected to Mr Shah pointing his finger at him, saying that he cannot be intimidated, to which the home minister claimed that he was not frightening anyone, but cannot help it if someone has fear in their minds.
Mr Singh alleged during his speech that the then Hyderabad police commissioner was asked by a political leader of the state to change the course of investigation in a particular case else he could be transferred out.
He said he is aware of the development as at that time he was Mumbai police commissioner.
Objecting to his claim, Mr Owaisi, demanded that Mr Singh place on table of the House all records related to his claim and added that Mr Singh was giving information in the House based on hearsay.
On this, Mr Shah got up from his seat and said treasury members did not disturb Opposition members during their speeches so they should also do the same.