Explained: Functioning of NIA

Reading time: 6-8 minutes.

Last month, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh alleged that the actions of the Central Government directed the National Investigation Agency to investigate the offenses committed regarding Bhima Koregaon case was against the Constitution. He condemned the Central Government of not receiving the consent of the Maharashtra Government before transferring the investigation to the agency.

He stated that the case was closely tied to sensitive issues and the Maharashtra Government was probing the case to find the root of the matter. Suspicion was also stated by the minister as the investigation was in the process and there was no apparent reason the Central Government to act in such a way.

Significance of this development

When the investigation of the case is transferred to the National Investigation Agency, the State Government and police officers under the government cannot continue the investigation. Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh had stated that the action of the Central Government is questionable as the right to investigate the issue was suddenly taken away from the Maharashtra Government.

The reaction of Maharashtra Government can be seen as questioning the possibility of the Central Government misusing the power the Centre has regarding the NIA system and need to justify for taking away the right to investigate the issue from the State Government.

What is NIA?

The National Investigation Agency is an agency established by the Government of India which came to existence on December 31st, 2008 when the National Investigation Agency Act, 2008 was enacted. It is headquartered in New Delhi, and its branches are located in Hyderabad, Lucknow, Kolkata, Mumbai, etc. It works as a central agency that enforces counter-terrorism laws and prosecutes offenses that fall under Scheduled Offences specified by the Act.

The agency aims to investigate and prosecute offenses which potentially affect security, sovereignty and integrity of India, and its foreign relations, smuggling of large quantities of counterfeit Indian currency, and atomic or nuclear facilities. NIA also takes responsibility for implementing international treaties or agreements made in the United Nations or other international organizations to facilitate international procedures.

The goals of NIA are to uphold the values inscribed in the Constitution and abide by the law while facilitating the process of investigation and prosecution for an effective and speedy trial. NIA seeks to keep a professional relationship with governments of States and Union and other law enforcement organizations to maximize the effectiveness of cooperation through assisting them with investigations in terror cases and working as a database of all terrorists related information. 

The powers and functions of NIA

National Investigation Agency is established to fight back terrors and investigate various offenses. For the agency to properly carry out its duties, it is necessary for the agency to be empowered to investigate and prosecute without unnecessary intervention of the third parties. National Investigation Agency Act, 2008 empowers the agency to investigate and prosecute. Chapter III of the NIA Act empowers the agency to investigate offences, when the agency is directed by the Central Government.

The State Government may also request Central Government to transfer the investigation to NIA. Once the investigation is transferred to the agency, the State Government and police officers under the government cannot proceed with the investigation and it is their duty to transfer all the relevant documents and data to the agency.

For the investigation of the case, officers of the agency will have same powers of the police officers with the investigation across India. The power of the agency will also have power to investigate matters outside India subject to international treaties and domestic laws of other countries. The agency can also into offenses that are potentially connected with the offences under the Scheduled Offence list.

As for the prosecution of NIA, the agency can prosecute scheduled offences committed through Special Courts of NIA. Special Courts, which are constituted along with the appointment of a judge by Central Government and State Government from the recommendation list provided by the Chief Justice of the High Court, have all powers of the court of sessions provided under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

When there are any questions regarding the jurisdiction of Special Courts, it can be referred to the Central Government and depending on the discretion of the Centre, Special Courts will have jurisdictions over such cases. Further, trials held in Special Courts will have precedence over any other trials held in courts that are not Special Court. Special Courts can also hold the trial for the offenses that are connected to the Scheduled Offences, which is provided under section 14 of the NIA Act. The trial will be carried out with the presence of a public prosecutor who will be appointed by the Central Government.

Allocations of cases to NIA

Cases are allocated to National Investigation Agency through the process of informing the higher administrative bodies until it reaches the Central Government. The local police station can inform the State Government about the case relating to Scheduled Offence which can be then forwarded to the Central Government. If the Central Government finds it to be Scheduled Offence within 15 days, the Central Government can allocate the case to NIA for investigation. Moreover, a case can be transferred from one Special Court to another.

The transfer of such cases can be done by both Supreme Court and High Court, with latter restricted to within that specific state. NIA Act has enabled the transfer of cases between Special Courts to ensure that the case is investigated and heard by the most appropriate Special Court. It has also ensured that trial of Special Courts take priority over trials in courts that are not Special Courts as cases Special Courts prosecute often are very important or serious incidents.

Relevant landmark cases

The case of State of Maharashtra vs Ravi Dhiren and Ors. is one of the important cases heard by Special Court. The case was prosecuted against the group of criminals who tried to transport large quantity of counterfeit Indian currency. The court stated that such acts threaten the unity, integrity security and sovereignty of the country and thus needs to be halted, which is specifically the reason for the existence of NIA.

The Special Court refers specifically to the evidence provided by NIA to convict the criminals. The evidence produced by NIA is documents and data collected from letters or testimonies or organizations such as banks. This case proves that NIA plays a vital role in trials held by Special Courts as the court refers to the evidence collected by the agency. It is the case that proved the function of NIA and the reason for its existence.


National Investigation Agency is an independent institution that combats terrors and other crimes which endangers security, integrity, and sovereignty of the country. Although there is dependency on the Central Government as the Centre has the discretion to transfer the case to the agency, NIA Act allows effective and speedy trial through enabling transfer of cases to ensure the issue is dealt by the most appropriate Special Court while enabling reasonable intervention of Supreme Court and High Court for the matter of equity.

Author: Byeongwoo Park from National Law School of India University, Bangalore.

Editor: Tamanna Gupta from RGNUL, Patiala

The debate around the NIA Act, 2008

Reading time: 6-8 minutes.

Recently on 15th Jan 2020, the State of Chhattisgarh moved to Supreme Court by filing a plaint against Union of India under Article 131 of Indian Constitution, related to Centre and State relations, challenging constitutionality of National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act, 2008.

NIA Act was drafted in 2008 and was enforced in December 2008. Mr. P. Chidambaram who was then the Home Minister was the draughtsman of the Act.  The present petition has arisen from two petitions already pending before High Court of Chhattisgarh which also dealt with the NIA, its existence and its constitutionality.

Last year in June 2019, the Parliament had passed an NIA Bill which has amended the Act with respect to its jurisdiction and offences. The Bill has widened the scope of applicability.

Salient features of the Act

The NIA Act is an Act to constitute an investigation agency at the national level to investigate and prosecute offences affecting the sovereignty, security and integrity of India, security of State, friendly relations with foreign states and offences under Acts enacted to implement international treaties, agreements, conventions and resolutions of the United Nations, its agencies and other international organisations and for other connected matters.

Thus, it has brought under the agency’s ambit offences under the Atomic Energy Act, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, Anti-Hijacking Act, Suppression of Unlawful Acts against Safety of Civil Aviation Act, SAARC Convention (Suppression of Terrorism) Act, Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against Safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act, Weapons of Mass Destruction and their delivery systems and several sections of the Indian Penal Code related to cyber terrorism, offences related to counterfeit currency or manufacturing or selling of prohibited arms and human trafficking.

The Amendment Act allows the empowered agency to investigate offences committed outside the territory of India, subject to international treaties and domestic laws of other countries. Also, the amended act has allowed the Central government to designate Sessions Courts as Special Courts for the trial of scheduled offences under this Act. However, the Central government is required to consult the Chief Justice of the High Court under which the Sessions Court is functioning.

Controversy around it

The controversies against the NIA Act had begun back in 2008. The Centre, with the aid of NIA Act, had expanded the horizons to investigate and policing the crimes. Common criticism amongst many were that the Act is in sheer violation of sovereignty of State Governments, as police is a subject which falls under jurisdiction of State Government but through NIA, the Centre has an edge over and above the State Government.

NIA has caused interference in the investigation procedure in many cases. In 2014, in the Jeeram case, NIA had completed investigation but had declined to share the details of the same with State Police. Therefore, a PIL was filed seeking NIA as an ultra vires Act. Then, in 2019, in murder case of BJP MLA Bhima Mandavi, the NIA has declined to acknowledge and consider the investigation by the state police.

The affected party had challenged the interference of NIA in the matter at hand. Under both the circumstances, the NIA Act has been upheld has constitutionally valid. The Chhattisgarh HC Division Bench provided that the provisions are present in the Act to protect the opaqueness of investigatation and it is mandatory to obey those legal obligations.

Even after passing of Amendment Bill in 2019, controversies with regard to possible misuse have stirred up. The NIA Act has expanded the jurisdiction of the Centre to investigating crimes Act and included that all the powers, duties, privileges and liabilities that state police officers have in connection with investigating the offences listed under the Act would become available to the NIA as well.

For instance, through NIA Amendment Act, the officers have power to seize the property in the terror cases with approval of the Director General of NIA, if the case is being investigated by the NIA. Earlier, for such a step, prior approval of Director General of Police (DGP) was required. The opposition has raised concerns with regard to the violation of the principle of federalism.

Arguments made by Chhattisgarh government in its plaint

The State of Chhattisgarh has argued in the plaint that the Act is beyond the “legislative competence of the Parliament” and is against the “federal spirit” of the constitution.

As per the plaint, “ A holistic appreciation of the fact that “Police” was placed under List-II as the subject matter of State, with power to investigate, and equally significant fact that no such entry of “Police” or even any incidental or ancillary entry was provided in List-I i.e., Centre List suggests that the framing of a legislation such as NIA Act by the Parliament, which creates an “investigation” agency having overriding powers over the “Police” of a State, was never the intention of the makers of the Constitution.” Hence the plaint clearly argues that giving police powers to the Centre is against the Constitution.

The plaint further argued that the NIA Act disrupts the relations between the Centre and the State as the power of the State to investigate the offences which have been categorised in the Scheduled Offences under the Act and which have been committed within the State’s jurisdiction has been taken away.

The Chhattisgarh government has contended that the Act in effect has created a “National Police” affecting the State’s rights. Thus, the State seeks a declaration of the NIA Act as unconstitutional. An alternative remedy sought by the State is to declare the Sections 6,7,8 and 10 of the Act as ultra vires. Another alternative prayer has been sought for framing appropriate guidelines for the exercise of powers under section 25(1) of the Act.


The NIA Act, is considered to be a special legislation which intends to curb serious threats of terrorism; it is believed that to deal with a harsh issue, there is a dire need of special legislation. With the amendments being made in UAPA and NIA, the present government is moving towards strengthening the present law in order to prevent terrorism, which has come to be questioned as a step against the spirit of federalism.

An important point here is that this Act, when originally passed in 2008 by the UPA led government itself, was widely criticised for being unconstitutional. Now the Chattisgarh government of Congress has challenged not only the BJP Amendment Act but also the original act as being ultra vires the Constitution of India.

As per the statement of the AICC General Secretary in-charge of Chhattisgarh, P L Punia, the Act after the Amendment has undergone a “drastic change” and is no more the same Act.

As a result, The Supreme Court has also filed a notice to the Central Government regarding the constitutional validity of the Act.

Authors: Garima Sharma from University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun and Prachi Gupta from University Institute of Legal Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh.

Editor: Ismat Hena from Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia.