25 Nov 2008, 0037 hrs IST
Last Sunday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reiterated his view that Naxalism is the most serious security threat facing the country. But whether or
not terrorism and insurgency occur under Left-wing, Hindu or Islamic auspices, the point is to develop a coordinated national response dedicated to meeting threats of this nature.
If the problem is that state security forces and a multiplicity of intelligence services all pull in different directions, we had suggested in these columns a federal investigative agency as a step in resolving the issue. The PM has called for a task force headed by the national security adviser to come up with a plan, within a hundred days, for a centralised mechanism for coordination among different agencies to take on terror. States might object to having a federal agency override state forces. The PM’s plan sounds like a halfway house that would meet states’ concerns while enabling coordination and information sharing among security services. There’s also a suggestion that the US Department of Homeland Security, set up after the 9/11 attacks, be looked at as a model for promoting interstate cooperation. Which is all fine, provided that it moves beyond the committee stage and the central coordinating mechanism is given real teeth soon.
It’s important to realise that having a 21st century economy is not just a question of having modern factories and airports, it means that India’s colonial-style policing has to be updated to meet emerging security challenges. India’s police-population ratio is a mere 126 per 1,00,000 when the internationally recommended minimum is 222 per 1,00,000 and western countries go well beyond that. Indian policemen are severely under-resourced, lack training and remain old-fashioned in their functioning. One innovation that could give a quantum leap to their capabilities is a national database of terror suspects accessible at every police station in the country. Given India’s IT prowess, it’s a shame that one hasn’t been set up yet.
The National Police Commission suggested reforms that would professionalise the functioning of police and insulate them from political interference in 1978. But these have been hanging fire since, although there has been some movement in a few small states since the Supreme Court issued directives in September 2006. Comprehensive police reforms should be enacted and intelligence beefed up as well. Let’s not wait for the next terror strike to act.