The National Investigating Agency was set up less than 3 years back with an intention of probing all terror related cases in India. The response to the NIA has been a mixed one and like usual results were expected in very quick time.
There is however a long way to go before matters are cleared out and the NIA becomes India’s premier investigating agency for cases of terrorism. Radha Vinod Raju, who headed the NIA when the agency was formed discusses at length the teething problems faced by the NIA and what needs to be done in future. In this interview with rediff.com, Raju makes a very interesting point when asked about probes being altered according to the political weather in the country. “No investigator worth his salt would ever do this, “ is what the former NIA chief has to say.
How do you rate the NIA on the basis of the work it has done so far?
The NIA consists of officers who have had exposure to terrorism and investigation of terrorist cases. They are a committed lot, and dedicated and sincere in their approach. There is experience mixed with enthusiasm in their work out-put. In this respect, they are the best in the country, and they have the requisite data-base and technology to support their work. They have established working relationship with officers of the state ATS units. While a lot more ground needs to be covered by all stake holders, the NIA can be said to be shaping well, professionally. Of the fairly good number of cases, especially old ones, that they were asked to investigate, they have done a decent job till date. They need the continued support of the centre and the states to grow to their full potential.
There is a lot of confusion that prevails during a probe thanks to the involvement of several agencies including the local police. There are also alleged ego clashes between the agencies which hampers a probe. Do you think no other agency should be allowed to handle terror cases other than the NIA?
These are teething problems, in the context of our federal set-up, and should be patiently and tactfully, handled. Cases will be, mostly, registered in the local police stations, and as per the scheme in the NIA act, first investigated by them. It will be only later that, if necessary, it will be transferred to the NIA. There is bound to be some confusion during this process. These initial problems will be, and can be, tackled professionally. NIA cannot be the only agency that can investigate terrorist cases. But a regimen will have to be worked out by which the NIA and the ATS units are able to work out all cases jointly, some led by the ATS units, some by the NIA.
How do you rate the quality of investigations done by the NIA so far?
The NIA has secured a conviction in the only case decided so far. The first two or three cases registered by the NIA had been completed before I handed over charge as their DG. The quality of these investigations was simply outstanding. They include the cases against the Black Widow gang of Assam and FICN case of Mumbai.
Do you feel the media is not giving the NIA enough time and always pressurizes it for quick results?
Cases taken up by the NIA are difficult ones. There will be a conspiracy angle, and investigations will be spread across the country and even outside. The boys have to get evidence before taking action, and should not go for arrests to please anyone or to deflect pressure. Officers of the NIA will never indulge in such tactics. Media has to be realistic.
There is a complaint of staff shortage in the NIA. Has the government done or funded it enough to ensure that it becomes India’s premier investigating agency to handle terror cases?
NIA was set up less than 3 years ago. It has strength of about 300 staff. It is learned that the government have sanctioned more posts and branches in Mumbai, Lucknow and Kochi. It is obvious that the government wants the NIA to become the premier agency to tackle terrorist cases.
Why is there such slow progress in the Headley and Rana case? Do you think we are relying too much on the US for information which eventually is leading to a delay in filing the charge-sheet?
In the Headley case, from media reports it appears that the NIA has sent letter rogatory to Pakistan to tie up loose ends there. In the case of Rana, they are waiting to interrogate Rana to complete the case against him. It is not depending on the US so much. We have no control over their systems of law. The US has given us unprecedented cooperation in the Headley case. We cannot set the time-table when investigations have to be carried out in foreign countries.
Cases such as the Mecca Masjid and Malegaon cases which the NIA is looking into have a long way to go since various things are being undone. Earlier it was blamed on Islamic organizations and today it is on Hindu outfits. What are your views about this sir?
NIA has to go by evidence and make all efforts to collect all available evidence before coming to any conclusion. In old cases, it is bound to be a time consuming process, especially because the accused would get time to destroy vital clues and leads. I am glad the agency is going about its tasks in a fair, professional and transparent manner.
Do you find probes being modified according to the political weather?
No investigator worth his salt would ever do this. I know each SP, DIG and IG in the NIA, and many of the junior officers. They are professionals, and would not deviate from the principles of rule of law.
Investigators today are in a hurry to file the charge-sheet, but more than often they do no stand the judicial test. Why do you think this is the case- is it due to hurry or lack of investigating skills?
This is a general statement, and does not apply to the NIA if you go by the only charge-sheeted case of the NIA in which there has been a positive judicial pronouncement. Professional investigation organizations have systems where the investigation is scrutinized by several levels of investigating superior officers and law officers. Chance of failure in these cases is less, as can be seen by the results of organizations like the CBI.
Post 26/11 how do you think India has managed to secure itself? What suggestions do you have sir to step up our security?
Since 26/11, many steps have been taken to strengthen investigating machinery as well as preventive mechanisms like augmenting coastal security, immigration points etc. But India is a huge country and unlike in the case of the US, we live in a highly unstable region, characterized as the epicenter of terror. We will therefore have to be more alert, and strengthen all our systems, preventive and detective, and the justice system for optimum results.
We have seen a spate of terror strikes like the one in Delhi and also at Varanasi. These are unsolved mysteries still. Do you see a new trend in terror operations by fringe elements?
NIA has worked out some clues and leads in the Delhi case and has made arrests. There are also media reports quoting NIA sources that there is a trend where fringe jihadi elements have started acting on their own. This is quite possible, and would make the job of the intelligence and investigating agencies more difficult. The best results would come if these cases are correctly solved and the perpetrators brought to book.
Is the danger to national security today more from a country like Pakistan or is the enemy within?
Pakistan has been a constant source of trouble for us these sixty odd years. We also have fault lines in our polity which our enemy exploits. We should address our fault lines ourselves, and we can do this, certainly. A strong India cannot be troubled by anyone for long.
How strong do you think the Indian Mujahideen is today?
It is difficult to say. We will have to account for each of its members, and then, by our fair governance, ensure their ranks are not increased. That is the way forward.
Is our government serious about dealing with the problem of terror? Do you think it has been fair in dealing with both sorts of terror- both Islamic and Hindu?
The government, to the best of my knowledge, has never interfered in any investigation or prosecution, be it against the jihadi terror or right wing terror. It depends on the investigating and prosecution machinery to deliver on this, not the government.