By Sarwar Kashani
New Delhi, (IANS) The rejection of the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) by the state governments on the grounds that it goes against the country’s federal principles has evoked mixed response. While a former home secretary said there should not be any politics over terror, a former IB official said giving police powers to the proposed agency was like creating an Indian version of the KGB.
Former Intelligence Bureau chief Arun Bhagat is of the opinion that the NCTC doesn’t need police powers because it was designed as a single agency to coordinate counter-terrorism operations across the country,
“Democratic nations don’t give police powers to intelligence agencies. Only oligarchies or monarchical governments do that. It reminds you of the organisations like KGB,” Bhagat told IANS.
He said the purpose of the NCTC was to collate and analyse intelligence inputs with experts from all disciplines, including diplomatic, financial, investigative, judicial and police.
“They were to examine leads because our intelligence agencies were not getting the broader picture that complicated the situation.
“But I don’t know what situation prompted (the government) to come up with the idea to give police powers to search, seize and arrest to the NCTC. You know even the IB doesn’t have the police powers.”
The former Delhi Police commissioner, who also had a stint with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), stated that “lack of consultation” with state governments had complicated the matter that ultimately led to a deadlock over the NCTC.
The anti-terror organisation could not be formed despite a government order issued in February 2012 because many non-Congress ruled states feared its perceived misuse and that their policing powers would be clipped.
Commodore (retd) Uday Bhaskar, a noted security expert, said the state governments “had a reason to worry” even as he called the stalling of the NCTC as a “worrisome development” given the nature of threats to the nation’s internal security.
“Their (state government’s) argument is not devoid of reason, especially the states that have had tricky relations with the central government,” he said.
Ajay Sahni, an author and expert on counter-terrorism, questioned the logic to have the NCTC at all, arguing that not having it would “mean nothing for the country’s security”.
“It was a vanity project that would have undermined the existing capabilities,” feels Sahni.
Asked about the existing gaps in India’s anti-terror capacity as pointed out time and again by Chidambaram, Sahni argues that “generalisations cannot be arguments”.
“New structures cannot work. Existing system should be given the capacity to fight terror. Can NCTC do that?”
Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management that focuses on internal security research in India, pointed out that the Intelligence Bureau, India’s premier intelligence agency and nodal counter terrorism body, has less than 5,000 field agents to gather ground information from a population of 1.2 billion.
“Can NCTC do anything about that? In fact the NCTC will draw these field officers for its desk work and further complicate the things. What is the problem with the IB? Why cannot IB do what that you want the NCTC do?”
Sahni said there were already some 20 big and small central intelligence and security agencies – including the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) – apart from state police intelligence wings.
“There are gaps that need to be filled. Work on the existing system. Modernise police forces, improve their intelligence gathering, link police stations with centralised intelligence database and improve your police public ratio,” he said.
But former home secretary G.K. Pillai, who is considered to be one of the main architects of the NCTC, is disappointed over the proposed one-stop anti-terror intelligence hub getting stalled.
“You are waiting for another terror attack like the Mumbai 2008 then you will agree that we need the NCTC,” Pillai told IANS.
He said state governments were playing politics over terror. “There should not be any politics when it comes to fighting terror,” he stressed.
Pillai rejected the contention of its being misused. “Anything can be misused. Tell me which law cannot be misused. But that doesn’t mean we should do nothing.”