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Millennium Post

Is India tripping on counterterrorism?

The future of National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) hangs by a thread; expectedly so for its founding principles are simply myopic. While it’s based on the United States of America (USA) model of NCTC (set up in 2004), former union home minister and the current finance minister P Chidambaram has been throwing his formidable weight behind the project, leaving no stone unturned to bring NCTC to India ever since 26/11 Mumbai attacks exposed the vulnerability of the country’s intelligence gathering.
There was no answer to the havoc which was unleashed by a handful of terrorists in that ghastly attack. The need for a counter-terrorism body emerged and hence the proposal. Undoubtedly, the need is imminent.

The NCTC, however, continues to face opposition from non-Congress chief ministers some of whom have rejected it upfront, calling it a ‘draconian’ law. Last month, two Congress chief ministers, too, voiced their apprehension over the NCTC. Those who opposed even a watered-down proposal for NCTC include CMs Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal), Nitish Kumar (Bihar), Jayalalithaa (Tamil Nadu), Narendra Modi (Gujarat), Raman Singh (Chhattisgarh), Shivraj Singh Chouhan (Madhya Pradesh) and Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal.

The main cause of the dispute is considered to be section 43(a) of the act which empowers the NCTC 'to arrest and detain any person if the body feels that the subject is associated with a terror act (even potential)' on its own. This provision has been widely criticised by states (primarily non-Congress) alleging central domination on state powers and authority. Law and order is a state subject and in this case NCTC will have overriding powers and none of the state police will have the mandate to interfere.

Let’s not follow US

The states opposition to NCTC is not something unpredictable. India must realise that following United States of America's footsteps may be a convenient way but one must not discard a sea of differences between the two countries. Two crucial points could be made at this juncture: First, the gap in number of years the two countries have in terms of their individual sovereign existence is vast. United States of America have taken centuries to develop this coordination between centre-states to act cohesively. India is relatively a new country and still jostles with profound centre-state animosities. Second, unlike India, USA is a con-federal state. India in 1947 was made a federation (union of states) to accommodate its diversity unlike USA where states converged for a better mechanism. Heterogeneity of India would never allow the centre to easily override the state’s interests in constituting something as crucial as a national counter-terrorism mechanism. Last, but not the least, even the US's NCTC is restricted to strategic planning and integration of intelligence without any operational involvement, which is antagonistic to the Congress's demands.

Existing mechanism?

The National Investigative Agency (NIA) too came into being after 26/11 Mumbai carnage. Boasted as an agency to exclusively attend terrorism related cases, NIA is now facing a functional and motivational dent. The fact that it took the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) more than three months to appoint a director since former agency chief SC Sinha left, speaks volumes on the ignorance and neglect of existing institutions. Few officers working in the NIA often complain that the government seems least bothered about the prime anti-terrorism agency of the country and that it has not been able to stabilise itself even after five years of existence. From absence of proper infrastructure to acute shortage of staff, the agency attempts to deliver under extremely strenuous conditions. Unsurprisingly, there are not many takers for the NIA jobs in Indian police ranks due to these reasons. The deputations to NIA have been minimal too. Under such circumstances, the government should first pay proper attention to existing apparatus.  
Besides, the mention of Multi Agency Centre (MAC), another body set up after 26/11, has been dismal.

A report should be prepared and shared with all chief ministers on the performance of MAC since it was operationalised. NCTC, broadly, would be an extensive form of MAC, if comes into being – both of whose objective would be to counter any terrorist activity that might take place within the Indian territory. An overhaul into what MAC has yielded should be conducted as it would give an idea of how NCTC would shape. The proposed institution of NCTC would have investigation, intelligence and operational powers vested with it. Critics, however, have said that not only the powers are extraordinary but it is too much for a single body to handle effectively. Intelligence should be the only prerogative of NCTC and the rest should be handled by the already existing set-ups of police and central agencies. It has also been argued that the establishment of a new NCTC would only add to the bureaucratic tangle in intelligence sharing and counter terrorist action.

Amicable resolution  
Finance Minister P Chidambaram who has been orchestrating the movement of NCTC proposal has been too belligerent. His involvement still remains unscathed in the issue. In spite of building a consensus amicably, the arguments have often been put arrogantly by the Congress party specially Chidambaram. He after the conclusion of last month's chief ministers' conference in New Delhi said, 'If this form of NCTC is opposed then the country will pay the price from time to time.' It certainly doesn't send any positive message across. The states, on the other hand, should also realise that to counter mounting terrorism in the country need for strengthened mechanism is imperative and that their bargain (possibly for political gains) should not be too rigid to become a bane for the common man.  

The Hindu in its Editorial on 19 February 2012 mentioned a secret memo written by J Edgar Hoover in 1970 which pithily explained the difference between criminal investigators and spies: the 'purpose of counter-intelligence action,' it stated, 'is to disrupt, and it is immaterial whether facts exist to substantiate the charge.' The editorial argues that four decades on, as Union Home Minister P Chidambaram prepares to give teeth to India's new National Counter-Terrorism Centre, the words of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's legendary — and paranoiac — founding director should help Indians understand why the idea is profoundly misguided.

It argues that Intelligence Bureau's task is to gather information, handing it (IB) the power to arrest will expand the possibility of political misuse and lack of training, resources and manpower to state police to conduct effective investigations are reasons why counter-terrorism is floundering in the country. Setting up of multiple agencies may not be a prerequisite to combat terrorism but paying more heed to the existing ones may yield better results.

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