Herald View: Oversight of NIA, IB and CBI by Parliament necessary
What is common between all these central agencies is that none of them is accountable to anyone besides a handful of people in the government
Reports that yet another terror plot has been busted by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) would no doubt be received with both relief and apprehension. Relief because of the ability of the federal agencies to remain a step ahead of the terrorists and foil their designs and apprehension because of suspicion, to quote Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in a different context, that the agency is making a mountain of a molehill where no molehill exists. The manner in which different central agencies, including the NIA, have been used by the present government has undermined confidence in their independence and has aroused suspicion that many of their actions are prompted by political expediency. After all, a large number of terror suspects hauled by central agencies in the past have been acquitted of all charges because of inadequate evidence against them. But armed with draconian powers and zero accountability, the agencies are encouraged to leak sensational details to select media houses and pro government TV channels. They are also encouraged to arrest people on suspicion and they are able to keep them behind bars without a fair or a transparent trial as evidenced by the experience of the activists arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case.
A five thousand page charge sheet against five activists filed by the Pune Police is said to carry statements and evidence that speakers, organisers and participants at the Elgaar parishad meeting at Pune a year ago spoke against the RSS and the BJP government’s policies and vowed to fight them. But there is no evidence that they planned to wage war against the state. There is nothing on record, according to reports, to suggest that they are anti-national but that is how the accused activists have been painted. So much so that even the judiciary is wary of giving them relief lest they fall foul of the government and are accused of being sympathetic to misplaced causes. The evidence that the speakers at Elgaar parishad took an oath to protect the Indian Constitution, despite video evidence of such an oath, has been conveniently ignored. Denying these undertrials access to lawyers, media professionals, social workers and activists also raise the suspicion that their detention is meant to push a particular narrative, manage headlines and bolster the conspiracy theory that the nation faces a grave internal security threat.
Agencies like NATGRID and NIA also are subject to scrutiny by none. It is clearly time to bring all these central agencies under a legislative framework and subject them to oversight by Parliament.
The threat does not appear to have receded, despite a multiplicity of agencies cropping up over the years. The Intelligence Bureau was followed by the Central Bureau of Investigation. R&AW was set up for collecting external intelligence while NATGRID came up to assist intelligence agencies to share and coordinate information. The National Investigation Agency was set up to specifically prevent terror cases, if possible, and investigate acts of terror. The nation does not know how much of public funds are being spent on these agencies but it is a fair guess that the amount would be enormously high. No cost of course is too high when it comes to national security, but does it have to be a secret? What is also common between all these central agencies is that none of them is accountable to anyone besides a handful of people in the government. One is not sure if it would be incorrect to say that fewer than 100 privileged Indians drive these agencies to do what they do. But what is certain is that the agencies are not subjected to any kind of independent audit or oversight. In a democratic country, even Intelligence agencies are subject to scrutiny by the legislature.
Even the fabled Central Intelligence Agency of the CIA reports to the US Congress and conforms to a legal framework. In sharp contrast, the Indian agencies do not function within any legal framework. The Guwahati High Court had ruled not too long ago that the Central Bureau of Investigation had no legal mandate, forcing the CBI to rush to the Supreme Court for a stay. Similarly, the Intelligence Bureau, which was set-up by the British soon after the mutiny of 1857, is merely mandated to serve the political interests of the people in power. Agencies like NATGRID and NIA also are subject to scrutiny by none. It is clearly time to bring all these central agencies under a legislative framework and subject them to oversight by Parliament.
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