NCTC continues to hang in mid-air
Union home minister P Chidambaram’s pet project, the National Anti Terrorism Centre (NCTC), continues to be in a limbo because the states are yet to come to an agreement with the union home ministry over its powers and functioning as part of the Intelligence Bureau (IB).
The union home ministry had issued notice declaring that NCTC will become operational by March 1, 2012, which provoked an unprecedented protest from about a dozen chief ministers. They said it encroached on their domain and violated the federal structure. Their protests led to withdrawal of the notification. A meeting of the chief ministers was held on May 5 to sort out the differences. Chidambaram agreed to rework it but two months later, very little progress has been made.
According to home ministry officials, there have been several rounds of discussions with the chief secretaries and director-generals of police but a consensus has not been arrived yet.
There are two main contentious issues. One is about making NCTC an integral part of the IB, an intelligence agency with dubious legal status and no accountability and the second is giving it operational powers to search and arrest anyone anywhere in the country under section 43A of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Chidambaram had assured that he would consider taking NCTC out of IB, reminding that his original plan was to set up an independent body but he went by a GoM report of 2001 which had named IB as the nodal agency for counter-terrorism in the country.
As for the operational powers under section 43A of UAPA, Chidambaram had drawn attention to the fact that the power to search and arrest had been considered and passed by parliament and had not been questioned. Therefore, there was little to question. He had also pointed to the fact that safeguards had also been provided in the same law which said that once an arrest or seizure was made these would be handed over to the nearest police station and the subsequent investigation would be carried out by the local police.
He had also reminded that fighting terrorism was a shared responsibility and as soon as the states developed the necessary capabilities, the centre would pull back. He wished to allay fears of too much interference from the centre by working out standard operational procedures (SoPs) for standing council in which states had representation and for the operational arm of NCTC.
These SoPs were to be the answers to the second contentious issue. But several rounds of talks later, the centre and the states are yet to draw up the SoPs.
The official sources say it is unlikely that there would be any progress until the monsoon session ended.