Non-Congress CMs, including key UPA ally Mamata, feel the anti-terror body will disturb the federal structure
The Chief Ministers' meeting on the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) takes place here on Saturday, amid misgivings by some non-Congress Chief Ministers, including key UPA ally and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, that the proposed body will disturb the federal structure.
The meeting will have extensive discussions on the pros and cons of setting up the anti-terror body, and is likely to fine-tune the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).
The crucial question is whether the Chief Ministers will be able to get over the ‘Hamletian dilemma' which Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram referred to, while replying to a debate in the Lok Sabha on Thursday. And, similarly, will the Home Minister be able to convince the Chief Ministers that the Centre is working overtime to address their concerns, and will they, in turn, be flexible in their stand when it comes to dealing with issues of terrorism and internal security in a vast country like India?
With the Home Ministry already making State police chiefs and chiefs of Anti-Terrorism Squads (ATS), in SOPs already circulated to the States, active stakeholders in the Standing Council of the NCTC, the Chief Ministers are likely to express their views on how the proposed body will coordinate and operate, while undertaking counter-terror operations.
The anti-terror body, which was to come into existence on March 1, was kept on hold because of objections raised by the Chief Ministers.
On its part, and ahead of Saturday's meeting, the Home Ministry has assured the States that “in normal course, arrest/search/seizure shall be carried out by the ATS or police units of the State concerned.” Proposals like this one will be up for discussion during the meeting of the Chief Ministers, which will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, specifying the approach of the UPA government, and addressing the concerns of the Chief Ministers.
In February, non-Congress CMs had written to him, urging him to put the NCTC on hold till all their concerns were addressed through wide-ranging consultations. The Prime Minister, in turn, had asked the Home Minister to write to the Chief Ministers, in a bid to assure them.
If Mr. Chidambaram's comments in the Lok Sabha are any indication, he would stress the shared responsibility of the Centre and the States in dealing with crucial issues of internal security and terrorism.
“What I am trying to say is that this Hamletian dilemma must be done away with. Remember the famous words of Hamlet – ‘To be or not to be.' What do we want to be? I say this with greatest respect that in this troubled neighbourhood, in the year 2012, internal security of this country is a shared responsibility. We are willing to accept our share. The States must come forward to accept their share,” he had told MPs.
Dwelling upon the Constitutional provisions, Mr. Chidambaram said that in List II, law and order and public order are the responsibility of the State governments. In Article 355, it is the responsibility of the Central Government to protect every State against external aggression and internal threat.
He also referred to Section 2 (e) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, made in 2004, that introduced “designated agency.” The UAPA Act was amended in December 2008, and the Lok Sabha added Section 43 (a) to 43 (f). Section 43 (a) refers to designated agency, saying “designated agency may, under certain circumstances, counter terrorism, arrest and seize articles.”
He reiterated that the “moment you arrest, you must hand them over to the nearest police station. This is a law made by Parliament,” wondering how it amounted to encroaching upon the State's powers.
“What power am I encroaching upon? In a counter-terrorism situation, when a counter-terrorism operation is undertaken, the first police officer there would have to arrest, and the very next Section says when you arrest, you will hand him over to the nearest police station, and the Station House Officer will then take over the case. Please tell me, where is the encroachment in State's powers?” Mr. Chidambaram argued.
Will his forceful arguments be able to convince the Chief Ministers? They would want a seamless coordination between the NCTC and the State police when the proposed body undertakes anti-terror operations.
Another objection of the Chief Ministers pertains to the proposed NCTC being part of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), which is controlled by the Home Ministry. Some of the Chief Ministers have suggested giving an independent status to it.
A senior Home Ministry official said the controversy was sought to be projected as a row between the Centre and the States. “As the Home Minister has said, maintenance of internal security, violence and terrorism are a shared responsibility of the Centre and the States. We will have to find ways to handle these issues together, while protecting the national interest,” he said.
Some of the fiercest critics of the NCTC are Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. They have argued that since law and order happens to be a State subject, a body like the NCTC shouldn't be given wide powers to search, seize and arrest anyone from the States. They would want prior intimation and authorisation for anti-terror operations in the States, giving them a crucial say in such operations.
Although the NCTC will work as an “integral” part of IB, and its director will report to the IB chief, the Home Minister and the Home Secretary, it is proposed to give it a sharp counter-terrorism focus, like similar specialised bodies in some countries like the U.S., the U.K., Germany, France, Israel, Russia and China.
The NCTC's function will include drawing up of plans and coordinating all actions and integrating all intelligence pertaining to counter-terrorism. It will coordinate with relevant investigation and intelligence agencies to make sure that the perpetrators of terror are brought to justice, besides maintaining a comprehensive database of terrorists, their associates and supporters.