More than two years after the National Investigation Agency (NIA) urged the government to legalise undercover operations for its sleuths, home minister Rajnath Singh said the Centre is working on the proposal.
Addressing a conference on investigating agencies, Singh said, “We are considering legal protection for undercover operation, use of intelligence collected as evidence, and an entire gamut of issues relevant to combating terrorism.”
The NIA has been asking the government to make changes in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the NIA Act that governs the working of the federal anti-terror agency in order to improve the country’s anti-terror legal framework.
The NIA wants legal protection to carry out an undercover operation by infiltrating a terrorist organisation; at the moment, the law does not differentiate between an undercover operator becoming part of a criminal conspiracy to unravel it and a real conspirator.
“Both can be charged with the same offence,” said an NIA official on the condition of anonymity.
In USA and UK, undercover operators who penetrate terrorist or criminal gangs to gather evidence are provided legal protection.
The CBI probe into the Ishrat Jahan encounter brought this issue to the fore. The Intelligence Bureau (IB) said its officials were not involved in the killing of the 19-year-old Mumbai girl but lured two alleged Pakistani terrorists to Gujarat under a counter-terror operation.
The NIA also asked the government to incentivise truthful and voluntary confessions from accused in terror cases by offering them plea bargains wherein their probable death sentences can be reduced to life imprisonment if they cooperate with investigators.
The Lashkar-e-Taiba agent David Coleman Headley entered into a plea bargain with the US authorities by offering confession in order to avoid death sentence.
The NIA officials have argued that the provision of plea bargain may eradicate the problem of coerced confessions in terror cases.
Besides, the NIA will also ask for extra-territorial jurisdiction to probe terror attacks on Indians or their properties outside the country. This will help the agency probe cases like the May 2014 attack on the Indian consulate in Herat in Afghanistan.
The agency has also asked the government to allow the Inspector rank officials to be designated as Investigation Officer (IO) in cases being probed under the UAPA. At the moment, only deputy superintendent of police rank officials can be designated as IOs in a UAPA case.