B S Raghavan

Making CMs' meet on NCTC productive

B. S. Raghavan | Updated on March 09, 2018

It is good news that it will be full house at the Conference of Chief Ministers on the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), called by the Home Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram on May 5. That those among them who had serious misgivings about the functions and powers of the NCTC have agreed to attend, should be taken as an indication that they are willing to discuss the rationale for such a Centre with an open mind. As such, the meet is getting off to a promising start.

Although the non-Congress CMs were vocal in their angry reaction to what they construed as the encroachments on the States' authority in the provisions relating to the Centre, there can be no doubt that the same fears must have been gnawing the CMs belonging to the Congress Party as well, without their being able to give public expression to them. The first objection, of course, was that the Home Ministry shot off the Office Memorandum (OM) without consulting the CMs as to the scope and nature of the agency.

This objection has to be sustained in the light of the tendency on the part of whatever party or coalition runs the Government at the Centre to take the States for granted and expect them to fall in line. The Constitution had envisaged the Inter-State Council (Article 263) precisely for the purpose of “…discussing subjects in which some or all of the States, or of the Union and one or more of the States, have a common interest” and “making recommendations…for the better coordination of policy and action…”. The first thing all the CMs should strongly demand at the ensuing meet is the establishment of a standing Inter-State Council which will help resolve differences of approach and opinion prior to the adoption of a policy or course of action. This will avoid disputes such as the one on NCTC in the future.

Approach to avoid disputes

Next, the CMs have taken serious exception to the power vested, in terms of the OM, in the officers of the Operations Division of the NCTC “to arrest and …search” under Section 43A of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (as amended in 2008).

The Home Minister has sought to mollify the Chief Ministers by bringing up at the Conference two sets of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP, no pun intended!).

The first enjoins the NCTC, “as far as possible”, to keep the heads of state police and anti-terror squads informed about its operations in advance, and carry them out in conjunction with the State police units, while reserving the discretion in exceptional cases, where any delay in preventive action will be catastrophic, to arrest terrorists on its own volition and inform the State authorities soon thereafter.

DIFFICULTY TO GET OVER

The second set of SOP seeks to buttress the role of the Standing Council envisaged in the OM setting up the NCTC by providing in it representation of all the Central and State agencies having a vital stake in combating terrorism so as to ensure that it functions as “the single and effective point” of control, coordination and consultation in the most comprehensive sense possible.

As one who had a hand in drafting and processing the original Unlawful Activities Act of 1967, I would have readily advised the CMs to accept the safeguards contained in the SOPs.

Unfortunately, though, the location of the NCTC in the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and making the Director, NCTC, work under the Director, IB, will result in a clandestine organisation, as an integral part of another clandestine organisation, prone to “dirty tricks” in covert and overt operations, exercising the powers of search and arrest whose necessity will beyond scrutiny.

No civilised, democratic country — and certainly not the US from which Mr Chidambaram has borrowed the idea of NCTC — permits such a thing to happen.

This difficulty can be got over if the CMs prevail upon the Home Minister to make the NCTC, like its counterpart in the US, an independent agency, but functioning under an oversight body of eminent, professional, experienced public figures, established by Parliament.

It should be headed by the best person for the job, drawn from whatever field, and not confined to police officials.

Published on May 01, 2012

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