August 13, 2020
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Four Questions For The Home Minister

Plus four counter-rants on Mumbai blasts.

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Four Questions For The Home Minister

Dear Home Minister:

Qn #1: Where is the CCTNS?

Realising the gross deficiency in connectivity between police stations, the central government decided to implement an ambitious scheme called “Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System (CCTNS).” It was conceived on 7th May, 2008 as per MHA's letter No. IV.24021/2/08-PM-I dated 7th May 2008, well before the Mumbai terror strike. The goals of the system were to facilitate collection, storage, retrieval, analysis, transfer and sharing of data and information at the police station and between the police station and the State Headquarters and the Central Police Organisations.

The progress report of the CCTNS at the NCRB website says that the project is yet to see the light of the day. Why?

Qn #2: Where is the NCTC?

The National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) was to be set up with the broad mandate to deal with all kinds of terrorist violence directed against the country and the people. As the name suggests, the goal is to counter terrorism. This was to include preventing a terrorist attack, containing a terrorist attack should one take place, and responding to a terrorist attack by inflicting pain upon the perpetrators. NCTC was to therefore have to perform functions relating to intelligence, investigation and operations. As per the proposal, while the nature of the response to different kinds of terror has to be different and nuanced, NCTC’s mandate would be to respond to violence unleashed by any group – be it an insurgent group in the North East or the CPI (Maoist) in the heartland of India or any group of religious fanatics anywhere in India acting on their own or in concert with terrorists outside India.

The United States was able to create the NCTC from scratch within 36 months of September 11, 2001. You had promised that India must succeed in setting up the NCTC by the end of 2010 but your recently retired home secretary accepts that the NCTC is in a limbo, with the proposal not even approved by the government so far. Why?

Qn #3: Where is the NATGRID?

NATGRID, an umbrella organisation of investigating agencies to provide quick-time response to the demand for information on suspected terrorists and offenders of the law. It was meant to be the basic foundation over which the "new architecture of India’s security" promised by you had to take shape. Under NATGRID, 21 sets of databases are to be networked to achieve quick, seamless and secure access to desired information for intelligence/enforcement agencies.

You had promised in December 2009 that this project was likely to be completed in 18 – 24 months from then. However, only the in-principle approval for the first phase of the project has been given by the union cabinet last month. Why?

Qn #4: Where is the Ministry of Internal Security?

Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) performs a number of functions that have no direct relation to internal security. For example, it has a division dealing with freedom fighters but it does not have even a desk for dealing exclusively with forensic science. There are other divisions or desks that deal with centre-state relations, state legislation, human rights, union territories, disaster management, census among other subjects. Internal security is a more important function that deserves the highest attention.

Late K Subrahmanyam had strongly advocated the the setting up of a ministry — under the charge of a cabinet minister — that would be dedicated to internal security. He opined that internal security should not be part of the home ministry’s responsibilities. Just as we have a ministry for external security, which is the ministry of defence, India needs a ministry for internal security.

In 2009, you had suggested that subjects not directly related to internal security should be dealt with by a separate ministry or should be brought under a separate department in the MHA and dealt with by a minister, more or less independently, without referring every issue to the home minister. The home minister should devote the whole of his/her time and energy to matters relating to security. Evidently, there has been no progress on this promise so far. Why?


Dear Ranters:

Counter-rant #1: Ammonium Nitrate is a fertiliser which is also used as an explosive, similar to petrol or LPG. Its usage tells you nothing about the sophistication or origin of the Improvised Explosive Device (IED). The more critical components of an IED are the detonator, the initiating mechanism and the booster. So far, there is no official report about these three components. Use of Ammonium Nitrate could actually mean that military-grade high explosive was not easily available to them, or someone wanted to convey the impression that it was the handiwork of poorly-resourced locals. Basically, ammonium nitrate tells you nothing. Either way.

Counter-rant #2: Forensic and post-blast investigators can do a lot of technical analysis but these reports have limited value unless married with ground-investigation and intelligence teams. The best leads often come from parsing chatter on communication channels — both sound and data — before and after the event. Unusual spikes or drops in activity of monitored channels are often signs of an impending event. The progress of investigations will depend more on communication experts, local police and intelligence teams than technical analysis. Note that.

Counter-rant #3: Was this an intelligence failure? Yes, obviously so. Every terror strike is a failure of the internal security mechanisms of this country. Ideally, it should not happen. But ideally, there should be no traffic accidents, we should all always tell the truth, we should all vote, we should all live happily as a family, we should all score 100% in our exams, and so on and so forth. But a little bit of perspective will help. We can all expect and demand a perfect prediction, pre-emption and prevention report but is it realistic in an over-populated, under-policed country like India? It is a cliché but do remember that the bad guy has to succeed only once while the good guys have to succeed always and every time. Think first.

Counter-rant #4: If you are going to debate India’s internal security, just understand the basic formulation of internal security framework in India first. There are four elements of internal security in this country: political, administrative, intelligence and enforcement. These elements operate at three major levels: central, state and districts. This matrix will make your argument more cogent and incisive. Try it.

Pragmatic Desi (pragmatic_d on Twitter) blogs at Pragmatic Euphony

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