Supreme Court seeks Centre’s response on plea challenging NIA Act

Petition says the law concentrates police powers in one centralised agency which would act on the ‘whims and fancies’ of the Central government

January 20, 2020 01:33 pm | Updated 01:33 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

The Supreme Court on Monday asked the government’s response on a petition challenging the National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Act of 2019, saying the law concentrated police powers in one centralised agency which would act on the “whims and fancies” of the Central government.

A Bench led by Justice Rohinton F. Nariman issued notice to the government on a writ petition filed by Umar M., secretary of the Solidarity Youth Movement based at Kozhikode in Kerala.

The petition, represented by advocates Jaimon Andrews and Naresh Kumar, said the phraseology of the Amendment Act was suspect. In one of its Sections, the Amendment Act brought within its ambit acts committed “against the interest of India’ without clearly explaining what these actions would be.

“So, can it be that sloganeering against a Central law would be ‘against the interest of India’ under the Act?” Mr. Andrews asked.

“Legislations aimed at countering terrorism, often employ specific phrases such as ‘national security’, ‘national integrity’, ‘sovereignty’, so as erase any scope for arbitrary exercise of powers by the enforcement agencies. In the instant case, no attempt has been made to provide for a structured definition of the term, in the absence of which, the same would be open to enlarged interpretation, thus arbitrary and violative of the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution,” the petition contended.

Additional offences

The Amendment Act, the petition said, had introduced additional offences such as human trafficking which were at odds with NIA’s fundamental objective to counter terrorism.

With this Act, the NIA could encroach into the jurisdiction of the States’ police forces to investigate crimes within their jurisdiction. “This is wholly in contravention of the principles of co-operative federalism,” the petition said.

The Amendment Act did away with the prosecution’s law in registration and probe of offences.

Section 6(8) of the Act confers the Centre with powers to direct the NIA to register a case and probe anything which occurred outside the country, which in the government’s opinion, formed a scheduled offence.

“Resultantly, the agency would work as an organ at the behest and whims and fancies of the Central government, which is empowered to selectively direct the agency registration and investigation of cases, providing ample scope for misuse and arbitrary exercise of powers,” the petition said.

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