Constitution of State Investigation Agency in J&K to further stifle dissent: AILAJ

The lawyers’ organization claimed in a statement that the SIA has overbroad powers to probe ‘offences’ such misleading narrative and inciting dissatisfaction.

All India Lawyers Association For Justice (AILAJ) has condemned the constitution of a State Investigation Agency (SIA) by the Government of Jammu & Kashmir.

In a statement, the lawyers’ association said that the SIA has over-broad powers to investigate ‘offences’ such as false narrative & spreading disaffection.

‘SIA likely to be used to stifle dissent’

It added that the SIA is likely to be used to further stifle dissent in the region, which has seen a spree of terminations of government employees overcharges not even proved in a court of law.

The association says that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) will now have direct informational updates about cases relating to the seven additional grounds and even other ‘terrorism-related cases’, apart from the enactments enlisted in the Schedule to the UAPA. Shockingly, the Order does not provide any outlining of powers, or procedures, nor any mandate of transparency.

Additionally, the SIA has the power to take any such other measures as may be necessary for the speedy and effective investigation and prosecution of terrorism-related cases, according to AILAJ.

AILAJ highlights ‘vague, overbroad language belonging to colonial legacy’ in the J-K Government’s Order

The Director, SIA shall exercise powers as may be specified by the Government from time to time. Effectively, AILAJ adds that the use of vague and overbroad language, including those belonging to our colonial legacy, seems to portend that the SIA, as the NIA, will be utilized as a method of suppressing legitimate dissent.

The lack of safeguards as to delimitation of authority also points to this — there is not a single line in the entire Order relating to seeking to safeguard the civil liberties of the people from the overbroad powers of the SIA.

‘SIA’s mandate to conduct trials and prosecute the accused against basic tenets of criminal law’

Given the SIA’s mandate to conduct trials and prosecute the accused, the association lambasted the UT authorities. It states that it is highly unconstitutional that an investigative agency such as the SIA would be involved in conducting the trial of offences.

“Trials can only be conducted by judicial or quasi-judicial agencies, and this basic tenet of criminal law is flouted by the Order,” it noted in the statement.

Apart from various issues in regard to the mandate of the SIA, other problematic grey areas highlighted in the AILAJ’s statement include the lack of clarity as to where this agency would fall in the executive hierarchy. “Would it even fall within the police force?” it asked.

The Government Order contemplates the possibility of disagreement between the SIA and the DGP, which is the head of the police force in the State, and mandates that the DGP would prevail.

‘SIA will be controlled by the Government of India’

It was also pointed out that the Head of the Home Department is the Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, who is appointed by the President of India and is selected by the Union Government. Hence, the actions of this agency will be controlled by the Government of India, throwing into question its independence and its nature.

The sheer arbitrariness of the SIA is further highlighted, as per AILAJ, by the lack of clarity about the constituents of the SIA.

AILAJ seeks repeal of the ‘draconian’ and ‘colonial’ laws

AILAJ has been consistently seeking for the repeal of these ‘draconian’ and ‘colonial’ laws, which have been ‘indiscriminately’ used to ‘target voices’ of dissent.

Strongly condemning the J-K Government’s Order, it said the SIA’s constitution is in gross violation of the basic tenets of our Constitution. “We demand that the Government Order be withdrawn, and the Government withdraws its attempts to use State machinery to stifle dissent and muzzle the voices of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”

Formation of State Investigation Agency announced recently

The administration of Jammu and Kashmir announced the formation of the new State Investigation Agency on Monday, November 1.

It said in an order that the constitution of the new investigation agency was required to expedite and effectively investigate and prosecute militancy-related crimes in the Union Territory.

The SIA will be the Nodal Agency for coordinating with the National Investigation Agency and other Central Agencies to ‘take such other measures as may be necessary’ for speedy and effective investigation and prosecution of militancy-related cases.

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