The just-concluded meeting of State Director Generals of Police, Chief Secretaries and Home Secretaries presided over by the Union Home Ministry should go a long way in removing the obstacles in the operationalization of the recently proposed National Counter Terrorism Centre designed to fight the evil . After the Cabinet Committee on Security approved the creation of the NCTC in mid-January, Chief Ministers of ten states including Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh , Karnataka and West Bengal opposed the move in their letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying its mandate encroached upon the jurisdiction of states over law and order and it hence amounted to infringing the federal structure of the Indian Constitution .
A near consensus that is said to have emerged at this meeting is that the nature of terror threats faced by India today does demand an effective anti-terror mechanism along the lines of the proposed NCTC and the Centre can move forward in this direction with more consultations with the State governments and reworking of modalities of the proposed counter- terror hub. One hopes the Centre would be able to build further on this consensus. And the civil and police officials attending the meeting would contribute to this process by explaining the needful to their political leaderships back home and dissipating whatever doubts the latter might still be entertaining in the matter.
It is immensely clear by now that the proposed counter-terror body is far too enlightened to offend the federal structure of the constitution. Placed under the Intelligence Bureau, it will analyze threat assessments, integrate intelligence gathering , draw up counter-terrorism plans and coordinate with all the existing investigative and intelligence agencies with both state and Central governments. The National Intelligence Grid, to be operationalised with effect from January 2013, will provide it databases like travel records, immigration details and income tax records . NCTC can seek information also from agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation and National Intelligence Agency . It would be on the basis of such authentic information that the NCTC would make arrests or searches in terror suspected cases across the country . And here too the states would be kept in the loop and the NCTC given, to quote Union Home Minister P Chidambaran, “bare minimum power” for operational reason under the existing Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Ironically , India still does not have any effective mechanism to counter terror that has gripped the country since long. There has been little coordination among different security agencies in the country to fight the evil . A former top Indian intelligence official laments, "our technically empowered agencies like the NTRO, DIA and those of the IB, R&AW hardly share TECHINT with each other. The February 13 terror attack case involving an Israeli embassy car shows the Indian anti-terrorism mechanism lacks even elementary precautions. A major security target like Chankyapuri is not under CCTV and adequate physical coverage of the security agencies. After the explosion which included a big bang, in a matter of seconds the related roads could have been immediately cordoned off by mobile patrols and static roadblocks and the culprits nabbed ."
This state of affairs has to end, given the role peace plays in the life of any nation at home or abroad . Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has rightly emphasised on several occasions the need for a federal agency to deal with crimes of inter-State ramifications such as terrorism, narcotics, human trafficking and white-collar crimes. The states would do well to heed his counsel and cooperate with the Centre on the idea of the NCTC . It would not at all be correct to say that the proposed body would be against the provisions of the Indian Constitution. As architect of modern India and first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had argued long time back, an interpretation of a constitution cannot overlook its evolution in accordance with the changing times and circumstances. At the time the Indian Constitution was written , we did not have the terror activities of the kind we are faced with . But today there may be terror elements hiding in a remote corner of one state and yet linked with such modules in other states with their command based in some foreign country. The Constitution would have to be interpreted in this light today if a federal agency like NCTC were created to eliminate such elements from Indian society.
One finds that in the post-9/11 landscape most of the states in the world, which have relatively been successful in foiling such terror incidents, have been able to do so by enacting appropriate legislation and creating appropriate intelligence and security mechanism. In June 2008 then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had a bill passed by the House of Commons that among other things would allow the authorities to hold terrorism suspects for up to 42 days without charges. The U S government accepted most of the recommendations on security and intelligence made by their 9/11 commission. It had its security agencies and intelligence agencies well- equipped with counterterrorism surveillance and investigatory powers under the USA PATRIOT ACT . Under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 the government amended the National Security Act and created the office of the Director of National Intelligence which would prepare the estimates reflecting the consolidated opinion of the 16 IC agencies and brief the American President. American President George W Bush created the Department of Homeland Security and had special laws enacted to ensure coordination between the security agencies and financial institutions to choke off terror funding.
If terrorism is to be contained, India would have to do the same . However, the creation of law and structures alone would not do. In the past laws such as the TADA and the POTA failed to curb terrorist incidents in India and the Parliament had to repeal them on the ground that they were used more against innocent citizens and political opponents than the potential terrorists. One of the reasons for this predicament is that our security and intelligence agencies have lacked professional and functional autonomy . Also, there have been reports of “ego clashes” between top officials of different agencies, as a result of which they have not been able to take proper action against terror . Besides, our security and intelligence agencies often lack modern systems to fight terror. It was seen, for instance , in the case of the February 13 attack that the Delhi Police, which has claimed from time to time that they are equipped with state of art communication system , could not screen even the number plate of the motor cycle used in the incident. The political leadership in the country will have to see to it that such constraints do not clog the NCTC as and when it is operationalised .
Dr Jagdish N Singh is a senior Indian journalist
Views expressed are personal