Security experts call for decreasing dependence on foreign firms

The Centre is working on a new set of security clearance guidelines for the purchase of “sensitive equipment” from overseas by any Ministry or department. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST) will prepare the new set of norms that will define the categories of sensitive equipments. Security vetting of foreign suppliers will be required before placing an order.

The high-level Committee of Secretaries (CoS), at its recent meeting, discussed the issue threadbare. Top bureaucrats and security experts from various ministries, including Defence, Telecommunications, IT, and Commerce and agencies such as the Intelligence Bureau and the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), stressed the need for decreasing dependence on foreign firms by promoting indigenous production and setting up hi-tech laboratories for security audit of equipments purchased from abroad. The CoS has now sought “specific comments” from various Ministries and departments.

Government sources said the Inter-Ministerial Group (IMG) formed for this purpose has suggested pre-verification of foreign equipment before installation and an immediate security audit of sensitive equipments by a technical team from the DRDO, NTRO, IB and RAW. Interestingly, one suggestion at the meeting was to certify vendors supplying such equipments rather than look for “countries of origin.”

A major concern for the government has been equipments meant for installation close to defence areas. In one case, the CoS ruled in favour of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on the installation of China-made Doppler Weather Radars (DWR) in coastal areas. The MoD had been objecting to the proposal for security reasons. This forced the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) to shift the radars to inland locations after a delay of over three years.

The IMG has suggested that when sensitive equipment needs to be procured for installation near defence areas, the MOD will have an overriding authority to deal with any live situation on security grounds which will be a part of ‘standard operating procedures.’

The CoS has now asked the MoD to formulate specific and detailed guidelines for the hosting of equipment by Ministries and agencies within or in close proximity to defence locations by April-end this year.

The issue has become important since government agencies and private organisations have been opting for cheaper Chinese equipments. A case in point is the fast inroads made by Chinese telecom equipment-makers into the telecom and IT sector in India, which has been a major concern for intelligence and security agencies, the sources noted.

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