18 December, 2008

Hon’ble Chairman,

Thank you for this opportunity to speak on this vital bill. This bill marks what I hope is the first of the many steps required – legislative, administrative – to secure our nation and our people.

Sir, 26/11 was an unprecedented attack on our nation. It reinforced the sometimes forgotten fact, that we have a war being waged against us. The difference was that this time, the attack was unambiguously on our economic centers and the economic establishment.

Sir, after some years of being neglected, the vital issue of fighting terror is now taking center stage, albeit on the back of the tragic events of Mumbai. Sir, we must approach this whole challenge of terrorism with the assumption that there will be further attempts to attack us. The war on terror is not a short term problem, it’s a medium to long term challenge requiring us to think of solutions for both the immediate and long term.

Sir, we are all agreed on the fact that it is the most solemn obligation of the government to protect its people and therefore priorities facing the government are stark and clear.

To prevent and pre-empt any future terrorist attacks and
Secondly to upgrade, scale up our civil defence preparedness in anticipation of any future attacks,
Thirdly, investigate and track down perpetrators of attacks and their supporters.

It is in the context of these priorities and objectives of the government that we need to discuss this bill to create a National Investigative Agency and some questions need to be asked, to which I hope the Hon’ble Home Minister will provide answers.

Keeping in mind and reiterating that the government’s immediate objective is to prevent and pre-empt further attacks, what is clearly required today is a coherent, cogent counter terrorism strategy and agency to implement that strategy. Sir, the overwhelming opinion in police and security circles is that NIA should have been the National Counter terrorism agency and the skills, capabilities, personnel and tools required to fight this war on terror be assembled here.

From the reading of the bill, NIA is not the counter terrorism agency that the country requires. It is not obvious to me, where that resides in the government. Which agency is designated to lead this counter terrorism efforts? Is it the NIA? Or is it the same old multiplicity of agencies and institutions. Who is leading the nation’s efforts in this fight on terror? Who or where is India’s counter–terrorism czar? I would humbly and most respectfully urge the government to establish a clear counter terrorism strategy and leadership. If this has to remain secret, so be it. But a confirmation from the government, that there is such an effort in place with clear leadership to this, will go a long way to making the people of India confident about our efforts.

The bill and the accompanying notes and the discussions in the public domain suggests that this is a National Investigative agency, replacing the often politicized Crime or Investigating branches of the state polices and therefore tasked with investigating offences that have already been committed.

One of the reasons for the weakening and crippling of the capabilities of the state police Crime and investigative divisions has been the excessive political interference in appointments, transfers and promotions – to such an extent that the best talent in our police forces shun going to these departments. So what steps is the government taking to ensure that the NIA will not become another politicized institution. This is not a passing concern, given that governments have had a pathetic track record of building and nurturing new credible institutions in our governance? And keeping them focused on real work instead of political investigation and intelligence. We have also seen to our disgust and dismay, Political leaders playing politics with the work and performance of many of our brave Police officers and their work in Malegaon, Batla house etc., including one performance as recently as yesterday.

Fareed Zakaria in his book, “Post American World” talks of US, Britain, Israel shrugging off and bouncing back after terrorist attacks. That’s mainly because they have managed to create professional and capable institutions in this area that respond swiftly and capably. So I would urge you to look into the downstream issues of how to nurture and build the NIA into a fine, capable , professional agency and most important an agency that’s resistant to politicization of the kind that’s crippled and eroded so many others in our country. This will also allow it to gain the respect and trust of the people in what it does and how it does it.

Sir, I am not an expert on the subject of terrorism. But post 26/11 everyone in India has become aware of its serious threat and the inadequacy of our intelligence and security organizations and leadership to counter terrorism. Even the home minister has admitted to lapses in the security operations. I had sought through letters to the PM and for a discussion in the house, for a full independent enquiry into what went wrong, like the 9/11 commission in the US. I have since been advised that, that may demoralize the security agencies. That is clearly not my objective. But I would reiterate that unless we know what went wrong, we will not know what to fix and unless we fix the mistakes, we could pay the cost again on some future date. I would urge that he give us an assurance that he has independently and comprehensively examined and established the systemic flaws , especially in areas of joint action, intelligence follow-up ownership and integrated functioning of agencies vis a vis this threat.

Sir, let me end by saying that securing the country has to be a truly national effort and I hope the current political consensus continues, as the other important steps to increase and strengthen the security of our country are planned and implemented. I am pleased to support this bill wholeheartedly with the observations made earlier.

Jai Hind.