The National Counter Terrorism Centre was conceived with an aim to plug the gaps in the Indian intelligence-gathering framework. It was proposed in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks, when it was revealed that the heinous atrocity could have been prevented, had it been not for the numerous several lapses in the coordination of the security agencies. However, more than ten years later, political disputes over the NCTC are still managing to scuttle its implementation.
What is the National Counter Terrorism Centre?
The National Counter Terrorism Centre of India has been envisioned as an overarching anti-terror apparatus that will collate secret intelligence and surveillance information from the various other security agencies. It is supposed to examine suspicious individuals and activities in order to prevent terrorist attacks.
At the same time, it will also be at the forefront of combative scenarios like when an active shooter needs to be subdued. The National Counter Terrorism Centre has been structured on the lines of USA’s National Counter-Terrorism Centre as well as the British Terrorism Analysis Centre. It will be a division of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and will answer to the Union Home Ministry. The NCTC will function on the premise of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967.
What are the NCTC’s powers?
The NCTC has been entrusted with both preventive and combative powers. It is supposed to collect and analyse information from the different intelligence agencies in India, mobilise resources for the same and prevent the occurrence of acts of terrorism and related criminal activities.
Standardised responses to terrorist offensives will have to be prepared by the NCTC as well as routine assessments to check for security lapses. Therefore, it has been given the power to make arrests and searches at will and interrogate suspects. It will also allow the Centre to deploy military and paramilitary forces suo moto (‘on its own will’) if the need so arises, without the permission of the state chiefs. These operative powers differentiate the Indian NCTC from the National Counter Terrorism Centre of the USA, whose role is to simple coordinate and assemble data.
Why the political brouhaha over it?
Political wrangling between the Centre and the States has forced the NCTC into abeyance. The primary bone of contention is that the NCTC’s power to conduct operations without the State’s permission impinges on the principles of federalism that India espouses.
Furthermore, the States fear that NCTC’s powers may be misused by the central government to oppress or invalidate the state government’s sovereignty, especially if the political party heading the central government is different from the one at the helm of the state.
The Centre believes that the fight against terrorism has to be a concerted effort on the parts of the central and state governments. Therefore, the NCTC has been empowered with overseeing the workings of the state intelligence services and law enforcement agencies. However, the States allege that such sweeping powers will rob them of their autonomy and gives the Centre absolute control.
Furthermore, the State governments have pointed that the Carte Blanche ability to carry out searches, make arrests, take over investigations and so on. Otherwise, the whole process of requesting permission would be time-consuming and cumbersome. The States believe that this facility will also undermine the authority of the various state police and criminal investigation departments.
The States also resent the fact that they were not consulted before the Centre announced the drafting of the NCTC. In the past, the Centre had neglected to take into account the various state chief ministers’ opinions on the provision for Lokayuktas in the Lokpal Bill and on the introduction of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail and this incident simply served to raise the states chief ministers’ ire.
The setting up of an NCTC has also been termed unconstitutional by certain chief ministers. The then-Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, said that the creation of an NCTC was akin to the imposition of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which enables the defence forces absolute command over the region once it has been proclaimed as conflict-ridden.
Moreover, the NCTC has been structured as an operational body subsumed under the Intelligence Bureau and is accountable to the Union Home Ministry. The Director of the NCTC is supposed to communicate his or her findings to the Intelligence Bureau and the Union Home Secretary.
He or she is also carry out and follow the Home Secretary’s directives and suggestions. Since the Intelligence Bureau is directly under the central government’s control, the state governments fear that the NCTC may be forced to do the dirty work of the political parties in power at the Centre by trying to find out incriminating information of the political parties heading the state governments. The NCTC’s power to arrest suspicious individuals would be an added bonus for the central government’s malevolent interests.
Additionally, the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) have always been considered to be in a battle for greater bureaucratic control. Concerns have been raised that the NCTC might give the Intelligence Bureau more reach. That is why, it has been recommended that the NCTC must be allowed to function independently of the Intelligence Bureau (as well as the RAW), and should be probably be housed under a Ministry of Internal Security.
The absence of legislative command over the NCTC has also raised the heckles of the state chiefs who believe that the body could take actions arbitrarily, and obstruct the autonomy of the state.
The States which opposed the institution of the NCTC consisted primarily of anti-Congress political parties, with UPA (United Progressive Alliance, led by the Indian National Congress) occupying the apex governing body in India. It had been recently revealed that the central government had used the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) to surveil leaders and personnel of some radical right-wing parties for their own political purposes.
The Congress had also lost the assembly elections in some key states and the state governments were afraid that UPA could exploit the faculties of the NCTC to disrupt the democratic functions and detain political dissenters.
The following were some of the main opponents of the NCTC
- Mamata Banerjee of Trinamool Congress Party, Chief Minister of West Bengal.
- J Jayalalithaa of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.
- Omar Abdullah of National Conference Party, Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
- Nitish Kumar of Janata Dal (United), Chief Minister of Bihar.
- Naveen Patnaik of Biju Janata Dal, Chief Minister of Odisha.
- Narendra Modi of Bharatiya Janata Party, Chief Minister of Gujarat.
What can we expect in the future?
No one is certain if and when the NCTC will be put into force. Terrorism has become social malaise especially with the ascendancy of religious fundamentalism in India. Home-grown terrorism is a major issue that India now has to tackle and so is vigilantism against minorities.
The need for an effective agency to curb terror is paramount at this hour. However, the states’ concerns are also justified seeing how the government has already misused its limited powers. So what does the future hold for us?
Well, for one, the Centre and the States have to set aside their petty squabbling over the respective lakshman rekhas of their domains and unite to serve the common masses who have voted them into power. It is imperative that the Centre and the Sates immediately pool together their resources for this end.
The safety and security of the Indian populace needs to be the most important need of the hour, and petty feuds should be a thing of the past. At the same time, the government should take care not to overstep the jurisdictions of the states and threaten their autonomy. Political dissent must be allowed to thrive as before.
The NCTC which is to be formed should be structured in such a way that it does not countermand the authority of state law enforcement agencies. Law-enforcement agencies are usually localised, so they are more cognisant of the nitty-gritties of a situation at the grassroots level.
A central body like the NCTC, on the other hand, would be more mindful and knowledgeable of the larger picture. These two organisations need to coordinate and should be hospitable to each other’s needs.
State governments should also be given resources to upgrade their own forces to the level of military officers. For instance, police personnel should be given more efficient training on how to handle terrorist situations successfully. They need to be given adequately equipped machinery and proper ammunition too.
Strategies need to be thought out between the two and the dynamics of their working relationship needs to be defined as well. Boundaries could be set to aid them and minimise conflict. An independent ombudsman body could be formed for the intentions of supervision.
Lastly, no security or intelligence issue should be politicised to reap electoral brownie points. Lives of the nation are at stake and gravity of the present scenario should be strictly kept in mind.
Additionally, no bias or prejudice of any kind should be allowed to influence the agency’s workings. Not all Muslims are terrorists and not all tribal people are Naxals. Similarly, not all Hindus are saints. Victimising and persecuting a certain section of the population would be akin to committing terrorism.