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Aim is to strike a balance between rights and tough laws: Chidambaram

Aarti Dhar

NEW DELHI: Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram on Wednesday said the government had tried to maintain a “fair balance” between respect for fundamental human rights and a demand for tougher laws to deal with terror in the National Investigation Agency Bill, 2008 and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2008.

Moving the two Bills in the Lok Sabha for discussion, Mr. Chidambaram said if any improvements were to be made to these legislations they could be done when Parliament meets again in February. He appealed to the members to support the Bills to ensure their passage.

Mr. Chidambaram assured the members that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) did not usurp the States’ right in any manner.

Though the agency would be set up under the Centre, it was laid down clearly that law and order was primarily the domain of the State. The Centre would make use of its power only under “extraordinary” circumstances and depending on the gravity of the situation, he said.

“The agency will also have the powers to return the investigations to the State, if it so thinks. We have struck a balance between the right of the States and duties of the Centre to investigate.”

When a State sends information to the Union government, the Centre would decide within 15 days, having regard to the gravity of the offence, whether it was fit to be taken up by the NIA.

Under eight laws

“In many cases, I expect the NIA to ask the State governments to associate themselves.” The NIA would investigate offences under eight laws, including the Atomic Energy Act and The Anti-Hijacking Act.

There would be a provision for special trial courts. Judges for them would be appointed in consultation with the Chief Justices of High Courts and cases would be heard on day-to-day basis. Appeals would lie with the Division Bench of a High Court and should be disposed off in three months under the NIA.

Different from POTA

Differentiating between the provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (Amendment) Bill and those of the Prevention of Terrorist Activities (POTA) Act, he said enhanced duration of detention of an accused without bail was needed in terror cases as it may not be possible to complete investigations within 90 days.

Detention period

Even the maximum period of detention was “up to” 180 days and an accused could be released on bail earlier, depending on the court which had the power to decide.

For extending the detention period, the court had to be convinced that the investigation was making progress, he said.

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