By N.C. Bipindra
New Delhi, (IANS) Nearly two years after it was set up, the search has begun for a consultant to kickstart India’s ambitious National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), an idea borrowed from the US to share real-time information among intelligence agencies and law enforcers to help fight crime and terror better.
The home ministry has issued a tender for appointment of a consultant to manage the NATGRID project and to monitor its implementation.
“We have now issued a tender for appointing a consultant to kickstart the NATGRID project. We are looking at a registered Indian company for appointment as consultant,” an official told IANS.
The official said an expert was required to handle the massive amount of data that the grid would process. The last date for obtaining the tender documents — being issued from Sep 11– has been extended to Oct 16 and it could be responded to by Oct 19, he said.
The official said an attempt had been made last year too, but it had failed to get a consultant to manage and implement the project that aims to integrate intelligence data into one system so that enforcement agencies could easily track law breakers.
The failure to get a consultant meant that the project is yet to get operationalised despite being set up in the home ministry in December 2010. The project, which was a brainchild of former home minister P. Chidambaram, also got a sanction of Rs.1,000 crore ($200 million) earlier this year to get the NATGRID infrastructure in place.
The project had faced stiff opposition from several quarters and public spirited individuals on questions of invasion of privacy. The government however defended the project on the premise that if such an intelligence sharing grid had existed prior to 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, Lashkar-e-Toiba operatives like David Coleman Headley could not have visited India repeatedly to carry out surveys and would have been detected before the terror attack that killed over 160 people was carried out.
Chidambaram had aggressively pushed for NATGRID, along with the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), which too has failed to take off due to protests over police powers to investigate from opposition-ruled states despite a notification earlier this year that it would begin from March 1.
The chosen NATGRID consultant, the official said, would implement the phase two of the project involving planning, setting up infrastructure and efficient sharing of information.
The first two phases, approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security in June 2011, is non-controversial, as setting up infrastructure and systems have existing legal backing.
The CCS’ final approval for the last two phases of the project that apparently require legislative approvals through amendments to existing laws is yet to come. But the whole project has in-principle nod of the UPA government.
At the time of the CCS nod for the first two phases of NATGRID, the home ministry had made a detailed briefing and presentation to the members. The NATGRID idea was borrowed by Chidambaram from the US following a visit in 2009.
The government had in December 2009 appointed Raghu Raman, a former military officer, as the chief executive officer (CEO) for the project. He was working as the CEO of Mahindra Defence Land System earlier.
NATGRID will integrate 21 categories of intelligence data from banks, railway, airlines, income tax department, credit card companies and others and make it available to designated law enforcement officers to enable tracking of criminals.