By B Raman
Of all the chief ministers who have protested against the proposed creation of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) in the Intelligence Bureau (IB) without consulting the state governments, only Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has got it right.
She has made it clear that her objection is not to the creation of the NCTC to strengthen our counter-terrorism capability. Nor is her objection based on fears of dilution of the principle of federalism.
Her objections are to two features of the proposed NCTC mechanism: the powers of arrests and searches sought to be given to the NCTC, which will be a division of the IB, a clandestine intelligence organisation, and the provision for the setting-up of inter-State intelligence teams by the NCTC.
She has reportedly described these provisions as highly objectionable and said that the powers of arrest and searches given to the IB through the mechanism of the NCTC under Section 2 (e) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act of 1967 “can be misused to suit ends that are motivated by reasons other than fighting terrorism. Moreover, setting up of inter-state intelligence teams by the NCTC is tantamount to usurping the legitimate rights of the States.”
I would not agree with her fears regarding the proposed inter-State intelligence teams. Such teams may be necessary to deal with pan-Indian terrorist groups such as the Indian Mujahideen which have their sleeper cells right across India in many States.
But I do share her fears about the possible misuse of the powers of arrest and searches by the NCTC Division of the IB against political opponents by branding them as associated with terrorism. During the Emergency of 1975-77, Indira Gandhi had many of her political opponents arrested by having them branded as threats to national security.
In the future, a government with authoritarian reflexes may be tempted to misuse the powers of arrest given to the IB through the NCTC and have political opponents arrested by having them branded as associated with terrorism.
The IB is a secret intelligence organisation. It has no accountability to Parliament in respect of its work. We do not have a system of parliamentary intelligence oversight committees. We depend on the executive without any checks and balances to ensure that the IB functions according to the law of the land.
The British, during their colonial rule, did not consider it necessary or wise to give the powers of arrest and searches to the IB for any purpose. They observed the sacred principle that a clandestine intelligence collection agency should not have the powers of arrest. None of the governments that had held office in New Delhi since our independence had considered it necessary or wise to give such powers to the IB.
The practice of giving powers of arrest to the intelligence agencies was started by Lenin and Stalin when they set up the KGB, the all-powerful Soviet intelligence agency, in order to enable it to deal with so-called counter-revolutionaries. Many other authoritarian countries have since given these powers to their intelligence agencies.
The IB has till now not had these powers. In spite of that, during the Emergency there were serious allegations of misuse of the IB and the CBI by the Indira Gandhi Government to harass opponents of the Emergency. Instances of such misuse were documented by the Shah Commission and the LP Singh Committee set up by the Morarji Desai Government to enquire into them.
If there could be such gross misdeeds when the IB did not have any powers of arrest, imagine how much more could there be when a clandestine organisation, not accountable to Parliament, is given such powers on the ground that those powers would be required to deal with terrorism.
Congress spokesmen who are defending the NCTC mechanism have sought to ridicule those criticising the objectionable provisions of the NCTC as being opposed to strengthening our counter-terrorism capability. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The opposition is not to the NCTC as such, but to some objectionable features of it.
Instead of standing on false prestige, the central government should have a relook at some of the worrisome features of the NCTC mechanism in consultation with other political parties and State governments. It is not just a question of respecting the principles of federalism. It is a question of adhering to the principles of a genuine democracy.
B Raman is Additional Secretary (Retired) in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. He is currently Director of the Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai; and Associate of the Chennai Centre for China Studies. Republished with permission from the Chennai Centre for China Studies.
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Updated Date: Feb 18, 2012 10:16:59 IST