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Centre - State hassle over NCTC

The ongoing debate between Centre & various States' administrations on the scope & structure of the National Counterterrorism Centre (NCTC) invokes several misgivings on the efficacy of our federal fabric. The Home Minister has led a callous show from the Centre & opposition parties in the states have maliciously taken advantage to gain as many political points as offered. While the political circus remains without a ringmaster, the innocent, ordinary Indian remains uncertain if his bus or train ride to office or shopping time with family is safe & secure from extremists who brazenly and mockingly strike, abduct, hijack etc. seemingly at their own whims & free will.

Although the Centre continues to generate much hula hoop around the highly ambitious NCTC fact remains our track record – botched operations like Dantewada incident where 76 CRPF jawans were brutally ambushed & RAW reported Pakistani shopkeepers & traders as terrorists, abductions of government officials, prolonged trials of Taj & CST assailant Ajmal Kasab & Afzal Guru led LeT attackers of the Parliament - continues to pain the blood & kin of victims and lowers citizens' confidence. Nevertheless the evolution & nature of the ongoing debate, which has engrossed national thinkers & international observers focused upon counter-terrorism, is noteworthy.

The Second Administrative Reforms Commission in its June '08 report "Combating Terrorism" suggested a federal agency to investigate terror offences under CBI among other recommendations. After the November '09 Mumbai terror attacks at the Intelligence Bureau Centenary Endowment lecture the Home Minister P. Chidambaram took the dais to propose the bold new NCTC. Chidambaram ambitiously envisaged a body subsuming NIA, NSG, NTRO etc. together with the Multi Agency Centre supported by the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) – accessing about 21 categories of database entries (railway, air travel, income tax, credit card & bank account statements, etc.). However a truncated version within the Intelligence Bureau was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security in January '12 empowered under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for arrests, searches & seizures.

Response to the NCTC at the Chief Ministers' conference was highly critical of the proposed body. Opposition CMs Narendra Modi, J Jayalalitha, Naveen Patnaik, Nitish Kumar & Prakash Singh Badal as well as alliance CMs Mamata Banerjee & Omar Abdullah amongst other seasoned bureaucrats voiced concerns on various aspects of the proposed setup. Principle among these was the anticipated infringement of state subjects of 'Public Order' and 'Police' by empowering NCTC to arrest/search/seize "in situations where immediate action is required" on intelligence inputs without informing state administrations. Such power resting in the secretive IB – a non-constitutional, non- accountable body - was also a concern for them. The presence of a multitude of agencies – Intelligence Bureau (IB), Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW), Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), National Investigation Agency (NIA), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Anti-Terror Squad (ATS), etc. also begged a question on the need for an additional organization.

The NCTC also adds to various bones of contention between Centre & States such as abolition of cascading taxes under proposed uniform goods and services tax regime, feeble state-level Lokayuktas in Lokpal institution, rehabilitation & resettlement clauses in the proposed Land Acquisition bill & proposed amendments to RPF & BSF acts to empower them with authority to arrest. However as we lurch through blasts, ambushes & abductions, the criticality of concerted & synchronized Centre-State efforts towards a counterterrorism body to face our complex internal security challenges cannot be emphasized further. Encouragingly the NIA met ATS units of 28 states & UTs - formed four sub-groups to streamline investigation process, Maoist influx, Northeast insurgency & fake currency

circulation and also called for coordination to track & nab 75 'wanted' people. But we should bear in mind, the NIA's role shall commence after an incident has occurred.

Jihadists plan centrally & attack while Maoists roam jungles transgressing state borders freely. Counterterrorism has a great responsibility towards the citizenry in rooting out forces inside & outside our borders that incite, fund & provide resources to such activities while the State has to ensure youth have several avenues of constructive opportunities. Turf wars will be best avoided by utilizing the best skills of each participant. It would be erroneous to not utilize the collated intelligence of the Centre from across monetary, communication, freight, satellite, etc. surveillance networks and the understanding of local languages, terrain & population available with state police & ATS units. The US NCTC operates under the Directorate of Intelligence with experts from CIA, FBI & the Pentagon collecting, collating & assessing information to share with policymakers. After 9/11 Bill Clinton stood aside President George W. Bush when he declared War on Terror & ten years hence President Barack Obama had George W. Bush by his side when addressing from Ground Zero on Osama's killing. Unfortunately, we lack leaders of vision who will prevent our going from one crisis to the next with our lives reduced to mere statistics.

Saahil Bhanot