The Centre's blueprint for a new anti-terror hub received a new vote of no-confidence today. In a letter to the Prime Minister, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has explained his objections to the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC), which was meant to become operational on March 1.
Like Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik, Mr Kumar believes that the new anti-terror hub is given sweeping powers that violate the principles of federalism. "It has been left fully to the absolute and arbitrary discretion of the NCTC authorities to make demands from the state governments and press for their immediate fulfillment. While the creation of a strong mechanism to counter terrorism at the national level is the need of the hour, would it not be better to consult state governments?"
The NCTC, a project that has topped Home Minister P Chidambaram's priority list since 26/11, has outraged every non-Congress government in the country, as well as Ms Banerjee, who is a senior partner in the UPA government at the Centre. Together with Naveen Patnaik of Odisha, Ms Banerjee has fronted the campaign that finds the new agency's powers trespass into the area of law and order reserved for state governments. "The creation of NCTC is highly-flawed in as much as it has been very surprisingly created within the Intelligence Bureau which is a secret intelligence organisation without any accountability to parliament....is it not an established principle that secret intelligence are never given the powers of arrest? Not even the British, during their rule of India, gave the powers of arrest and search to the IB," writes Mr Kumar.
Mr Patnaik and Ms Banerjee last week described the NCTC's powers as draconian and asked the Prime Minister to withdraw the executive order that outlines its rights and reach. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Jayalalithaa of Tamil Nadu, Shivraj Singh Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh, and Mani Sarkar who heads the Left government in Tripura, have agreed with this interpretation. Its current mandate allows the NCTC to swoop into any state, arrest suspects and fly them out of the state; it will not be obliged to consult the local government. "Since 'police' and 'law and order' are state subjects, any action involving arrest, search and seizure should be taken only with the active involvement of the state police," the Bihar chief minister stresses in his note to the Prime Minister.
The government has so far been stressing that the NCTC has been formed under an existing law - the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act of 1967 and that the first chapter of the act clearly explains that it applies to the whole country. While technically this may be correct, the failure of the centre has been a giant political misstep. State governments were not consulted before the anti-terrorism centre was notified. In the next few days, the centre is expected to reach out to state governments to pacify them, but it's not clear yet if the Prime Minister's Office or the Home Ministry will be assigned to this emergency drill.
The Congress also has to contend with this latest confrontation with Ms Banerjee, who seems to have formed a habit of taking on the UPA publicly over important new policies. In this latest face-off, allies like the DMK and Farooq Abdullah's National Conference have asked the centre to ensure the rights of states are not violated.