The National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) has signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) to access the centralised online database on FIRs and stolen vehicles.
First conceptualised in 2009, NATGRID seeks to become the one-stop destination for security and intelligence agencies to access database related to immigration entry and exit, banking and telephone details of a suspect on a “secured platform”. The project aims to go live by December 31.
The MoU, signed in March, will give NATGRID access to the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS) database, a platform that links around 14,000 police stations. All State police are mandated to file First Information Reports (FIR) in the CCTNS.
Safeguarding from leaks
“As per the present arrangement, the security agencies directly contact an airline or a telephone company if they are on a suspect’s trail. The data is shared through international servers such as Google etc. The NATGRID will ensure that such information is shared through a secure platform, safeguarding it from leaks,” said a senior government official.
When asked if the MoU infringes on the federal system of the Constitution, since the NCRB under the Union government is only a repository and the data pertaining to FIRs of a particular police station are a State subject, the official said, “It does not violate any legal provisions as FIRs are shared with all the police stations.
“The MoU enables the NATGRID to get information about details of a suspect as mentioned in the FIR such as his/her father’s name, telephone number and other details.”
Earlier the Civil Aviation Ministry and airline companies had raised concerns in providing information to yet another agency — NATGRID. The airlines contended that they already provide information as asked for to the Bureau of Immigration and the Customs authorities.
“The deliberations with the airlines are still on and once NATGRID is operational, all agencies will have to route their requests through the secured platform,” said the official.
However, the State police will not be part of NATGRID and they could directly contact the airlines or railways for information, the official said.
Renewed push under Home Minister Amit Shah
The project in the pipeline for a decade and envisaged first under Congress’ P. Chidambaram has got a renewed push under Home Minister Amit Shah. Initiated at a budget of ₹2,800 crore, it will be a medium for at least 10 Central agencies such as the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) to access data on a secured platform. The data will be procured by NATGRID from 21 providing organisations such as the telecom, tax records, bank, immigration etc.
Another official claimed that the information accessed by one agency through the grid will not be accessible to any other agency. “It will be an automated system and the request will land directly with the concerned department. No two agencies would know about the request generated by the other.”
The official said NATGRID will act as a link between intelligence and investigation agencies.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) informed a parliamentary panel in February that in the 2020-21 fiscal the projected demand for NATGRID was ₹283.29 crore but only ₹52.17 crore was allocated in the Budget.
It said the major amount is on account of expenditure “towards the NATGRID software solution” and for “building infrastructural works of NATGRID office, Data Centre etc. at Delhi and Bengaluru.”
The MHA said the solutions to be implemented by NATGRID are technology-intensive and in greenfield areas involving “multiple stakeholders and an ever-evolving ecosystem”.