Centre-state chill puts NCTC in deep freeze
After a majority of key states invoked federalism to reiterate their strong objections to the NCTC today at a meeting of chief ministers —- some of them even rejected the idea of having such an organisation — the fate of the body, that was to have come into operation from March 1, is all but sealed.
This despite the fact that the Centre tried to reach out to states with a six-step Standard Operating Procedure under which state anti-terror units would have been part of the NCTC and state DGPs included in its council. But this re-working was a non-starter given the deep political trust deficit between the Centre and the states.
After the day-long meeting, Home Minister P Chidambaram said that the government would "examine" all issues raised by the CMs before deciding on the next step. But the day's mood was summed up by the fact that he had already begun talking in terms of "NCTC or any other counter-terrorism body".
"Given the kind of terrorist threats we face, what we undoubtedly need is a counter-terrorism body — something that is more than a mere police organisation. It will need to mobilise all elements of national power — policing, diplomatic, financial and any other element — needed to thwart terrorist acts and designs. Whether it is an NCTC or any other body, we firmly believe that such an organisation is required," Chidambaram said after the meeting.
Chidambaram said all CMs present at today's meeting "recognised the need for NCTC or a similar organisation" and had problems only with the "powers and functions" of such an organisation.
These "powers and functions" were central to the NCTC's existence: the powers to arrest, search and seize; the manner in which operations were to be carried out, the location of the proposed body within the Intelligence Bureau.
Almost every non-Congress chief minister — Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee, J Jayalalithaa, Narendra Modi, Naveen Patnaik, Parkash Singh Badal, Raman Singh, Omar Abdullah — and even some Congress chief ministers like Tarun Gogoi of Assam, expressed their strong reservations to the NCTC in its current form.
Some like Jayalalithaa and Modi were extremely scathing in their attack, as expected, and along with Mamata categorically rejected the proposal. Some others, like Patnaik, Nitish and Raman Singh, expressed their displeasure more politely and even suggested possible ways out.
But as has been happening routinely in the last few months, the clincher was the non-comprising stand of Banerjee, a crucial ally of the UPA government.
"I reiterate my clear stand that the exercise of police functions should remain the prerogative of the State as enshrined in the Constitution and the well-conceived equilibrium of powers and responsibilities between the Centre and the States should not be disturbed under any circumstances. I would, therefore, strongly urge the union government to withdraw the order...for setting up of NCTC," Banerjee said.
She also took strong exception to a comment made by Home Secretary R K Singh at a previous meeting with state government officials wherein he had asked them not to act like "stenographers" of their chief ministers.
"During the meeting of the chief secretaries with the Home Ministry on NCTC, the chief secretaries were told not to act like mere stenographers. Comments like this are an attempt at provoking the states, which should not be done as they create a trust deficit between the Centre and the state," she said.
Earlier, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked the chief ministers not to see the creation of NCTC as a Centre-State issue. "It is not our government's intention in any way to affect the distribution of powers between the States and the Union that our Constitution provides. The establishment of the NCTC is not a State versus Centre issue. The primary purpose behind setting up the NCTC is to coordinate counter terrorism efforts throughout this vast country, as the Intelligence Bureau has been doing so far. The NCTC should be a vehicle of our combined efforts to reach the shared goal of curbing terrorism and eradicating militancy," he said.
The chief ministers, however, clearly had a different view. One after another, they punched holes into the order setting up the NCTC. While Badal said that Centre had the worst track record in fighting terrorism, Jayalalithaa and Modi called the Centre "autocratic" and "disdainful" of the concerns of the state governments.
Modi even told reporters that the black cover of the printed copy of his speech was because he wanted to protest against the NCTC.
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