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Friday, 15 January 2016

Too Many Intelligence Agencies, But No Comprehensive Security Plan for India

M R Sivaraman
Securitymen on alert near an Indian Air Force base that was attacked by militants in Pathankot. Credit: PTI
To fulfill its promise in made in the BJP election manifesto, Atal Bihari Vajpayee the then Prime Minister set up the National Security Council in November 1998 with his Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra as the first National Security Advisor. This was done by an executive order and thus has no legislative backing, unlike the National Security Council of the US on which presumably it has been modelled. So ab initio it suffers from a major deficiency. The NSA possibly cannot officially pass any orders or instructions, or at least that is the presumption, excepting in the name of the PM. This is borne out by the fact that he is shown at the top of the list of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) with the rank of minister of state. The Home Secretary can directions and also coordinate with all the relevant ministries and the states. The Foreign Secretary interacts with all countries on a day-to-day basis. The NSA of India dons — on himself — the roles of both the secretaries.
 If the NSA had only a simple advisory role then the matter would be different. But, in the light of different perceptions on how the Pathankot attack was dealt with and the role of the NSA in that, it is necessary now for the Government to clearly specify his role and functions lest the defence forces feel offended every time the NSA takes an active role in such incidents.
Ajit Doval may be an exceptionally qualified person, having been in the thick of action during his active career but not so any of his predecessors or maybe even his successors. The role of the NSA of India with regard to the threats to its economy is not clear.
Capital flight
The country is losing billions of dollars through capital flight and thousands of crores of tax revenue due to underhand dealings in every sector of economic activity, the facts of which are reportedly contained in a detailed report submitted by the National institute of Public Finance and Policy on the orders of Mr. Pranab Mukherjee when he was the Finance minister in the UPA. The report is said to contain startling figures of massive black money generation. No one knows the fate of the report even though The Hindu on August 4, 2014 reported, on the basis of a copy it had, that the black economy now accounted for 75% of the GDP.
Even accounting for a high margin of error in the estimation, these findings have serious implications for the monetary and fiscal policies of the government. Earlier, on the insistence of this writer, the then NDA government revised the GDP of the country by about 18% in 1998. But if the unaccounted income is even close to 50% of the current GDP then it makes nonsense of all the gamut of economic policies of the government, which may be the reason that the government does not want to make the report public. Within this cauldron could lie the seeds of economic instability of the country.
The then Finance Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had asked this writer to coordinate with all the intelligence agencies to ensure that at least financial crimes were effectively pursued. But no co-operation was forthcoming. The number of agencies under the Revenue Secretary itself is bewildering and there is hardly any co-operation or co-ordination amongst them unless a strong Revenue Secretary asserts himself. Courts would release on bail international criminals on flimsy grounds who then fleed the country never to be caught again. The system has been getting debilitated by the day as is seen in the number of chief commissioners of both and other lower rank officers of both the boards being arrested for corruption in recent times.
The information that is gathered by these agencies is immense as they can tap phones and have access to intelligence agencies across the world. On rare occasions sensitive information including those involving terrorists is taken to the Revenue Secretary by junior officers who are afraid of lack of support from seniors and if the Revenue Secretary courageously acts on it many serious crimes could be prevented.
To these can be added all the other intelligence agencies with the Ministry of Home Affairs, armed forces and the intelligence directorates under every state government. Despite these many agencies, terrorists attack the country periodically. Financial terrorists too continue their activities all the time.
In co-ordination meetings, no agency agrees to disclose information, because they do not want to compromise their sources. This often a lame excuse. There is no proper accountability of officers for the use of secret service funds by all the intelligence agencies. The income tax authorities, ED, customs and central excise, etc. seize hundreds of crores of rupees in cash and in the form of other valuables. No audit is conducted as to where these seized crores are and what is their security.
Unholy and criminal nexus
A note by this writer was part of the Vohra Committee’s report on the nexus between criminals, bureaucrats, politicians and even the judiciary.The then PM released this report in Parliament and a committee was constituted to monitor all the cases of such a nexus. The committee had an unceremonious demise.
Is the NSA of India conversant with all these institutional set up under different authorities which are engaged in national security? Foreign Secretaries who become NSAs may not even have inkling about these resources while a police officer may be familiar with a few of them.
The national security of India has never been considered holistically but has been left to the scores of police forces and intelligence agencies without much co-ordination and barely any co-operation amongst them. This is in spite of the fact that the country has faced five major wars since independence. The onslaught to which this country is subject to from nefarious forces such as drug smugglers, money launderers and arms smugglers is acting as a negative force preventing the country from exploiting its full economic potential.
Together with the external threats to its security, they are more than adequate reasons to have a proper National Security Act. This should not be confused with the existing National Security Act 1980, which is in fact a preventive detention law. One of the two could be renamed. The Act should provide for two levels of National Security Council, one in which the state chief ministers are also members, which once in a year reviews internal security issues and takes policy decisions and another with only the relevant central ministers, the three services chiefs and the secretaries of the relevant ministries like Defence, Home, Revenue and Foreign Affairs. The NSA could be the Secretary of this NSC with no autonomous powers; the current NSA functions as a super Foreign, Home and Defence secretaries rolled into one negating the functional responsibilities given to the Secretaries under the Transaction of Business Rules. Currently the NSA usurps the powers of the Secretaries who alone answer in the Parliamentary committees being responsible for actions in their ministries.
In the meanwhile it is learnt that the PM is reportedly contemplating the setting up of a Ministry of Internal Security. Do we really have to replicate everything the US does even though our Constitution, division of powers and the hierarchical structure of the governments are all different?
M.R.Sivaraman is a retired IAS officer and is a former Revenue Secretary.

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