Three pet projects of his predecessor P. Chidambaram are either stuck or progressing slowly

Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde is faced with the formidable task of upgrading and strengthening India’s safety and security paraphernalia. But it is not going to be easy. Be it the setting up of the National Counterterrorism Centre (NCTC), the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) or the Crime and Criminal Tracking Networks & Systems (CCTNS), he is sure to face a stiff challenge from State governments as well as Central Ministries.

The three pet projects of Mr. Shinde’s predecessor P. Chidambaram, envisaged immediately after the 2008 Mumbai blasts, are either stuck or progressing slowly despite the latter pushing hard for it. While the CCTNS that aims at creating a comprehensive and integrated system for enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of policing through IT-enabled tracking system has been delayed by more than a year, NATGRID, a comprehensive database comprising 21 categories, is being opposed by some Union Ministries and State governments.

Similarly, the NCTC is being strongly opposed by the non-Congress States, which accuse Mr. Chidambaram of trying to interfere in the functioning of the States and weaken the federal structure. Though Mr. Chidambaram had given indications that he would accept the States’ demands and drop controversial provisions, Mr. Shinde still has the difficult task of convincing non-Congress parties to agree to the formation of NCTC, which his predecessor asserted was crucial in India’s fight against terrorism.

A non-starter

In the case of NATGRID, despite the ambitious project being approved by the Centre and initial money to buy state-of-the-art monitoring equipments being sanctioned, some key Union Ministries — including Telecom and Information Technology, Defence and External Affairs — and some States had reservations about the delegation of “uncontrolled monitoring powers” to one agency. As a result, the project has literally been a non-starter.

The only saving grace for Mr. Shinde is that there will be little objection from the Union Finance Ministry and sanction of funds for these projects will be easier, now with Mr. Chidambaram at the helm of the Ministry.

The Rs.2,000-crore CCTNS is the only project Mr. Chidambaram managed to get started, despite it having some inherent design flaws. The work on the three-year project to connect 20,000 police stations and offices of senior officers started in 2009, but its deadline has been extended to 2013. MHA sources say that though police forces across the country have purchased computers and allocated rooms for CCTNS units, neither the software nor the infrastructure needed to power the system is anywhere near ready.

A part of the problem, some police officials argue, is the MHA’s decision to restrict itself to merely funding the project and entrusting each State with the task of implementing it on its own. The decision, a senior MHA official told The-Hindu, was taken to avoid the prospect of the multi-crore contracts involved inviting corruption charges.

Lessons to be learnt

“Political and bureaucratic issues are hindering early completion of these projects,” the former Border Security Force Director General, Ajai Raj Sharma, told TheHindu, pointing out that hi-tech security infrastructure was crucial for India in its fight against terrorism. “The argument that NCTC or other such surveillance network will hurt Centre-State relations is ill-conceived as these organisations will remain confined to counter-terror activities.”

India should learn some lessons from the U.S. in preparing itself for the fight against terror, said Mr. Sharma who has also been Delhi Police Commissioner. “After 9/11, the U.S. created the Department of Homeland Security that now comprehensively deals with the problem of terrorism… India also needs big improvement in its existing system in order to tackle terror more effectively. The Centre needs to fast-track the creation of a modern anti-terror establishment.”

More In: National | News