Pragmatic | Home Minister answers the questions

A need for more transparency in providing information.

After the Mumbai blasts in July earlier this year, this blogger had posted four questions for the Union Home Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram. You can read them here or here. The questions were about the lack of progress in four critical institutions pertaining to internal security: CCTNS, NATGRID, NCTC and a Ministry for Internal Security.

In his speech while inaugurating the DGPs/IGPs Conference at Delhi today, the Home Minister answered three of the four questions.

Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS). From time to time there have been slippages but we have taken corrective steps and I am hopeful that the nationwide network will be in place by March, 2013. Some States have not yet selected the system integrator; some have not yet set up State Data Centre. These are matters that require the personal attention of the DGP of the State.

The other ambitious project is NATGRID. Government approved the project on June 6, 2011 and I believe that it is proceeding according to schedule and the phases that have been approved will be completed in 18 months.

The most important unfinished agenda is the National Counter Terrorism Centre. It was an idea that I had unveiled in my Intelligence Bureau Centenary Endowment Lecture delivered in December, 2009. The underlying premise is that there is a subtle difference between anti-terrorism and counter terrorism. To borrow a phrase from the National Strategy for Counter Terrorism published by the US Government in June, 2011, the goal must be “to disrupt, dismantle and eventually defeat” the terrorist groups. Today, we do not have an organisation devoting its whole time and energy to that task. I hope to secure a Government decision on setting up the NCTC. Once there is a decision, I am confident that the core team of NCTC can be installed within 60 days and the full structure can be put together within 12-18 months.[PIB]

While work on CCTNS and NATGRID has finally started, albeit belatedly, the proposal for an NCTC is being spoken about now. But what is completely missing from the agenda is a dedicated Ministry for Internal Security. If one were to be cynical, would it need another big terror attack to get the idea of a ministry for internal security up for discussion?

Another noteworthy highlight of the speech was the Home Minister’s willingness to share more information about actions taken to prevent terror attacks.

Since 26/11, security forces and intelligence agencies have neutralised 51 terror modules. To illustrate, Abdul Latif and Riyaz who were planning to attack ONGC installations were arrested in Mumbai in March, 2010. Zia ul Haque was arrested in Hyderabad in May, 2010 and a major terrorist action against a multinational company was disrupted. A 10 member SIMI module was busted in Madhya Pradesh in June, 2011 and their plan to assassinate three Judges was foiled.[PIB]

This should hold a lesson for the home ministry too. They should stop classifying every information as ‘sensitive’ or ‘confidential’. They could make the interrogation details of suspects — up to a certain level — more accessible to the public. Unless the ministry communicates to the public what it has done successfully, the attention will always be directed at its failures. The role of counter-terror machinery is akin to those of a goal-keeper in football or a wicket-keeper in cricket. You only get noticed for your mistakes; the successes are a part of your routine.

Finally, the Home Ministry must advice all the state police departments to update their websites with more relevant information — the dossiers of the Most Wanted, and the confessions and charge-sheets of those arrested and convicted in terror cases.

In these cynical times, an emphasis on increased transparency in their dealings will not only regenerate the common man’s trust on the government agencies but also make the agencies more accountable and responsible. It means that there should be no need for anyone to ask questions of the government agencies. The answers should always be publicly available.

DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.