The early January Pathankot terrorist attack in which seven soldiers lost their lives once again puts a question mark on the anti-terror preparedness of the Indian security establishment. A slew of measures were taken after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in 2008, including putting in place a national counter-terrorism centre (NCTC) and creation of national intelligence grid (NATGRID). The government also planned to integrate all police stations across the country and create a central database of crime and criminals. While NCTC is still to be notified by the government, NATGRID and crime and criminal tracking network and systems (CCTNS) projects, too, have not been rolled out.
Approved in 2009, CCTNS was aimed at setting up a central database of criminals and crime cases by 2012. The deadline of the project, which provided for integration of all police stations, district and state police headquarters with a network and automated police related citizen services, was revised to 2015.
NATGRID was approved by the cabinet in 2011. The project was to be rolled out in two years. It has been four years and the project exists only on paper, an official associated with the project said. The ministry is still deliberating how to go ahead. It has formed several committees and subcommittees, one after another, to help in project design and execution.
Under CCTNS, central application software (CAS) has to be deployed at central and state levels. All first information reports (FIRs) will be fed into the system using CAS. As of now, CAS has been deployed in 12,011 out of 14,324 police stations across the country, according to an MHA report of August 2015. Only 4,259 are doing online registration of FIR. The report said that 7,247 police stations have full network connectivity.
Of the total allocated amount of Rs 2,000 crore, Rs 877.65 crore was released and Rs 684.88 crore was utilised till August. Of the total states only six have set up a citizen portal. They are: Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Mizoram, Odisha, Tripura and West Bengal.
Besides the slow pace of implementation, a major hurdle was zero allocation of funds in the 2015-16 budget. The scheme implementation was handed over to states as per the 14th finance commission report. The project was reviewed by PM Narendra Modi in August. Recently, home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi requested the government to release the remaining amount of the total sanctioned fund for the project.
In August, the ministry proposed to take immediate steps to set up central crime and criminal database, wherein states would be asked to ensure data readiness (which could be shared) and coordinate with BSNL for connectivity between the state data centre and the national data centre. The database will have the search facility to identify interstate criminals.
The to-do list of the home ministry includes availability of citizen services through the online portal. The ministry would streamline and fast-track passport verification process. It would also allow online cyber crime reporting and grievance registration. The other services to be
streamlined include servant, tenant and employee verification.
At the backend, according to ministry’s plan, the CCTNS database would be integrated with unique identification authority of India (UIDAI), national population register (NPR), election commission and transport department. The system will also have sex offenders’ registry and reporting system for trafficked and missing persons.
Under NATGRID the home ministry wanted to link 81 databases. This includes integration of databases of 10 law enforcement agencies, LEA (referred as user agencies in NATGRID’s context), and that of 22 provider agencies including banks, telecoms and internet service providers, railways, airlines and future databases. The LEAs include intelligence bureau, research and analysis wing, central bureau of investigation, narcotics control bureau, enforcement directorate, central board of direct taxes, director general of central excise intelligence, central board of excise and customs, directorate of revenue intelligence and financial intelligence unit.
NATGRID, according to a home ministry official, would leverage information technology to link these host distributed databases held by different agencies and exploit the big data framework to facilitate access, collation, analysis, correlation, prediction and dissemination of contextual information about terror related activities.
The cabinet committee on security (CCS) had approved Rs 1,002.97 crore on June 14, 2012. It took the CCS another one year to approve the Rs 346 crore NATGRID infrastructure project for setting up of the data centre and disaster recovery facility. However, officials involved with the project told Governance Now that the data centre and other infrastructure related work has mostly remained on paper.
The project didn’t move in its initial days as there was lack of clarity about who would own and run NATGRID. This was a result of the never-ending turf war between intelligence agencies. Despite being handpicked by the UPA government as CEO, Captain Raghu Raman faced challenges in moving files within the ministry as soon as P Chidambaram moved from home to finance ministry in 2012. When NDA came to power in 2014, it didn’t grant extension to Raman. After his departure, several technology professionals who were hired from the industry also left.
The Modi government, according to media reports, has decided to hand over the reins of NATGRID, when completely functional, to the IB. Its current CEO Ashok Prasad has worked with the IB as special director. In the last six months or so, Prasad has taken several meetings, formed separate committees and sub-committees, seeking views on solution architecture, security, software and hardware. The home ministry has also asked NIC to help ministry prepare the NATSAR software and execute the project.
On June 4, Prasad wrote to DG, NIC requesting participation of senior NIC officials in the advisory group constituted for NATGRID. He wrote: “Although the detailed project report was prepared in 2010, rapid advancement in technology has opened up new horizons on the technological front. In order to ensure that state-of-the-art systems are incorporated into NATGRID, it is proposed to set up an advisory group in NATGRID comprising of domain experts in hardware, network, software, storage and security to guide the process.” The scope of work, however, is not clear yet.
Lamenting the inordinate delay in execution of the two projects related to national security, Ajay Sahni, executive director, Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi, said that India's police forces are governed by obsolete laws. “While communications technology has become advanced and complex, the Indian police has not been able to make use of it and the country is being made to pay for it,” Sahni said.
Here is one example of the cost the country has to bear in the absence of national databases and software analytics tools. Yasin Bhatkal was first picked by special task force of Kolkata police on charges of keeping fake currency notes. He was booked for a month and then released on bail. He was already on the wanted list as an Indian Mujahideen leader. Bhatkal was eventually arrested in 2013. “Had CCTNS been in place, Bhatkal could have been prevented from roaming free and plotting terror attacks,” Sahni added.
The United States attempted a similar project way back in 1967. “When someone is caught in a drunk and driving case or for jumping a traffic signal, the US cops will run the social security number of the offender in the federal database and get to know the history of the offender,” Sahni said. “It is unfortunate that India still doesn’t have such a system in place.”
Prakash Singh, former chief of UP police and BSF, said that when the tech-savvy prime minister addressed the all-India DGPs conference in December 2014, he gave a new meaning to ‘smart’ policing. The PM's definition of ‘smart’ included: ‘s’ for strict but sensitive, ‘m’ for modern and mobility, ‘a’ for alert and accountable, ‘r’ for reliable and responsive and ‘t’ for techno-savvy and trained. “It's time the prime minister walked the talk,” Singh said.
On November 18, the cabinet committee on economic affairs gave a formal extension to the CCTNS project till March 2017 including its integration with e-courts, e-prisons, forensics and prosecution. In the aftermath of yet another terror attack in India, one hopes the agencies will not miss the deadline this time.
(The story appears in the January 16-31, 2015)