While agreeing in principle on the need to have an effective anti-terrorism mechanism on the lines of the proposed National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), almost all States on Monday emphasised the need to make them an "effective stakeholder" in all aspects of counter-terrorism domain.
At a day-long meeting of the State police chiefs, Chief Secretaries and Home Secretaries, presided over by Union Home Secretary R. K. Singh, top officials expressed wanted more consultations with the State governments and reworking of modalities before making the counter-terror hub operational.
While Congress-ruled States were in agreement with the NCTC, others voiced their opposition to the "operations division" of the NCTC which has been empowered to carry out searches and arrests, informed sources said.
Some of the key points that came up for discussion included reworking the NCTC order to amplify the powers, functions and duties of the proposed Standing Council; specific circumstances in which Section 43A of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act powers can be invoked; and to ensure that NCTC is also equally obliged to respond to State government’s requests, official sources said.
Non-Congress-ruled States like Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Tripura opposed the creation of NCTC on the ground that it has unbridled powers over the State police. Top police officials of these States expressed their reservations over the "controlling and unilateral nature" of the NCTC. They termed it as "unacceptable and unfair."
They pointed out that the Intelligence Bureau (IB) was already performing the job and felt that there was no need to give power of arrest to the operations division of the NCTC.
While some States wanted the Centre to learn from their experience of tackling terrorism, others emphasised the need for better coordination in counter-terror operations and preferred joint operations instead of "unilateral" operations by the proposed counter-terrorism agency.
Officials from U.P. and Uttarakhand where new governments are yet to be formed after assembly elections did not express any views, saying these would be conveyed to the Home Ministry later. Interestingly, BJP-ruled Karnataka’s police representative made out a strong case for having a tough, counter-terror hub like the planned NCTC, while senior officials from the State were cautious in toeing the government line.
While thanking the States for their constructive cooperation, Union Home Secretary Mr. Singh emphasized that the nature of terror threats faced by India needs an effective and coordinated response of the Centre and the States. "For this purpose NCTC will be a crucial instrument," he said while assured States that their concerns have been noted and would be suitably addressed.
Stung by sharp criticism of the NCTC from non-Congress Chief Ministers, the Centre had put on hold the operationalisation of the NCTC from March 1, preferring to discuss the issue with the State governments. Non-Congress Chief Ministers have opposed the creation of the NCTC, maintaining that it would impinge on the principle of federalism and encroach upon their turf.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa have asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to convene a meeting of chief ministers to discuss the issue. Mr. Patnaik asked the Prime Minister to first discuss the issue with the Chief Ministers before operationalising the agency. He said the NCTC in its present form would erode the States' powers and this was not acceptable.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had also expressed similar concerns.
Seeking to allay their apprehensions, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram had written to 10 non-Congress chief ministers, assuring them that the "next steps" on the NCTC would be taken only after consulting the states.
In his letter, Mr. Chidambaram had said the powers conferred under Section 43 (A) of the Act must be read with the duty under Section 43 (B) to produce the person or article without unnecessary delay before the nearest police station (which will be under the state government).
The Centre is also likely to convene a meeting of the Chief Ministers on internal security on April 16 to discuss the concerns of the State governments on the proposed NCTC.