Parliament paves way for federal probe agency, stern anti-terror law (Lead)

December 18th, 2008 - 11:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Pratibha PatilNew Delhi, Dec 18 (IANS) The Indian parliament Thursday approved legislative measures to create a National Investigating Agency (NIA) and to strengthen the anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, with the Rajya Sabha unanimously approving the two related bills.”The bills aim at speedy investigation, a speedy trial and fair delivery of justice in terrorist-related crimes,” Home Minister P. Chidambaram said in the Rajya Sabha while winding up an over eight-hour debate.

“Many members have suggested amendments. I respect every one of them and will study them closely. We will see how the laws work for the next few months. We will revisit them if necessary,” the home minister said while addressing the concerns expressed by a number of members.

The Lok Sabha approved the two legislative measures Wednesday.

The bills will now be sent to President Pratibha Patil for being signed into law.

While there was broad support for both bills, many members spoke out against two provisions of the amended Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act: increasing the detention period without filing a charge sheet to 180 days and the onus being on an accused to prove his innocence.

Many speakers felt that the creation of the NIA should have first been discussed with the chief ministers of all states and that both bills should have been sent to a standing committee of parliament for being vetted.

Some members also felt that any number of agencies could be created and laws passed but all this would prove futile unless there was accountability of the individuals concerned.

Members also cautioned that the NIA should not become politicised as has happened with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the intelligence agencies. They also felt that the new agency should not be a mere probe agency but should proactively attempt to prevent terror acts.

Quite a few MPs said that while the bills had support across the spectrum, they personally were giving their assent with “a heavy heart” as they felt the legislations were brought in haste and that much more could have been done.

Answering some of the concerns, Chidambaram said: “Indian jurisprudence has a fundamental stance that a man is deemed innocent till proved guilty. However, in cases of terrorism, the guilty have to quickly be brought to trial. If the trial is prolonged, as happens under the normal law, people will lose faith in the system.”

He also said the autonomy of the states would not be eroded through the NIA.

“It is not the intention to take on everything except the gravest offences. We are not restricting a state’s autonomy. More often than not, the NIA will ask the state to associate with it and could even hand the case back after investigating it,” Chidambaram said.

Noting that “everybody supported idea behind the two bills, the BJP gave critical support and the Left has given conditional support”, the home minister said: “I respect every suggestion.”

“At the end of the day, and my appeal to you is to unanimously pass the measures so that we send out a strong message that the people of India and the parliament are united. We should not appear to be a divided house.”

Initiating the debate in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said that “checks have to be imposed” to prevent the misuse of the two laws, which he described as “only a half step of a reluctant government.”

“But, as a nationalist party, we will campaign for the other half but yet support the half measure you have taken,” he said on behalf of the BJP.

“The only difference is that while we support this measure as a national necessity, the government and its allies appear to be more apologetic in bringing this measure”, Jaitley added.

The Congress was unfazed.

“We have to show that this house means business and send out a strong signal that we are serious about combating terror,” Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi said.

Noting that it was “important to focus on the remedy for the disease”, he said the two bills must be “seen as part of the larger holistic framework for the war against terror. This holistic approach will help us fight the war against terror.

“The two bills are part of a seamless network against terror,” Singhvi maintained.

Noting that the bills lay special emphasis on human rights, Singhvi said: “Please don’t conjure up a fear psychosis.”

Sitaram Yechury of the CPI-M, who was among many MPs who suggested two modifications in the amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, said that increasing the detention period to 180 days without filing charges was “unfair”.

“In the US, even after 9/11, a person can’t be jailed for more than two days without charges being filed,” Yechury pointed out.

He also said it should be mandatory for the NIA to associate the state in which it was conducting a probe instead of this being left to the agency’s discretion.

D. Raja of the Communist Party of India (CPI) said that “while there can be no two opinions on the need to fight terror, the effort should not become a partisan one. It has to be done together.”

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