SC Agrees to Hear Plea Challenging NIA (Amendment) Act

A Bench of Justices RF Nariman and S Ravindra Bhat issued notice to the Centre and sought its reply within 4 weeks.

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India
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The Supreme Court on Monday, 20 January, agreed to hear a plea challenging the amendments made in the National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Act, 2019, on the ground that it gives "unfettered discretionary powers" to the Centre.

A Bench of Justices R F Nariman and S Ravindra Bhat issued notice to the Centre and sought its reply within four weeks.

The plea filed by the organisation ‘Solidarity Youth Movement’ says that the new amendment has diluted the nature and operation of the Act, which was enacted to prosecute offences affecting national security, by incorporating legislations unrelated to terrorism.

The petition filed through advocate Jaimon Andrews alleges that the Act "unconstitutionally" concentrates investigative and prosecutorial activities which would otherwise have been within the purview of respective state governments where offences have been committed.

"In addition to its unconstitutional concentration of powers, no objective and third-party empirical data has been provided as to the inability or the incompetence of the state investigation agencies to carry out investigations and prosecution," the petition said.

Chhattisgarh Government Filed Original Suit Under Article 131

It claimed that after the amendments in the Act, the offences unrelated to terrorism such as trafficking of minors for sexual exploitation has also been included in the purview of the Act, therefore further usurping the powers of state investigation agencies.

"The statement of object of the Act clearly states that the underlying purpose is to constitute a national investigation agency which would be empowered to register, investigate and prosecute offences wherein the national security, national integrity, sovereignty, friendly relations with foreign states, and offences under the Act enacted pursuant to international treaties, agreements, are affected," it said.

The petition said that with the impugned amendments, the purview of the law was broadened.

“The amendment has incorporated offences pertaining to the trafficking of persons and minors for sexual exploitation or forced labour, possession, usage, making, delivery of counterfeited currency notes, which are wholly unrelated to countering terrorism,” it added.

The plea said that the “co-operative federalism, which is the fundamental pillar of governmental functioning has been diluted by this amendment”.

On 15 January, the Congress-led Chhattisgarh government had also moved the apex court seeking the UPA-1 era NIA Act be declared unconstitutional and arbitrary on the ground that it affects the state's sovereignty and confers unbridled power to the Centre.

The then Manmohan Singh government had come out with the law in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attack when senior Congress leader P Chidambaram was the union home minister.

The legislation provides NIA concurrent jurisdiction to probe terror attacks in any part of the country without any specific permission from states and in the last one decade, it has been involved in the investigation of all such cases.

The Chhattisgarh government filed the original suit under Article 131 of the Constitution which empowers a state to move the Supreme Court directly in matters of dispute with the Centre or any other state. It is the first state to challenge the Act.

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