India Works on To-Do List
to Revamp Homeland Security
Armored vehicles, surveillance radars, handheld imagers, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), biometrics and software solutions... those are the buzzwords as India revamps its homeland security to make sure that there is never another 26/11. The Mumbai terror strike last November that exposed India's lack of preparedness was the tipping point for the government to prepare a to-do list of how to tackle new-age terror and secure the country.
One year after India's worst terror attack, in which 170 people were killed over three days, strategic experts and officials have prepared an exhaustive shopping list of sophisticated equipment for surveillance and security.
"When 10 armed terrorists sneaked into Mumbai from the coastline undetected, it drove home the stark point that urban warfare needed a drastic revamp and could not be fought with traditional weapons and equipment," said a senior official in the Intelligence Bureau.
Nov 26, 2008, put the spotlight on how badly equipped our police force was with their outdated .303 rifles and little or no personal protection like bulletproof jackets or helmets. They proved no match for the carbines and communication devices the terrorists were carrying.
P. Chidambaram, who took over as home minister on Dec 1, set for himself a blistering pace to overhaul homeland security on all sides -- beefing maritime protection, borders, airports, mass-transport networks and critical infrastructure security.
One thing that immediately got off the ground was the operationalisation of the Multi-Agency Centre (MAC) that analyses intelligence inputs on a real time basis and is shared among intelligence agencies and police forces.
"Every piece of chatter is scrutinized and information however frivolous is looked at. To a large measure, that is why we have not had any terror strikes so far," said a home ministry official.
MAC subsidiaries have already been established in many state capitals and would eventually be set up in all.
Based on the needs of paramilitary forces, armed forces, police and intelligence agencies, different kinds of equipment are also being procured on an urgent basis.
Police in Maoist-affected areas of central India, for instance, are looking at procuring anti-mine armored vehicles and surveillance cameras while intelligence officials from Jammu and Kashmir are aiming to procure cyber security products so they can pick up electronic chatter from across the border.
The shopping list is huge, but orders have already been placed to procure the latest equipment.
"To safeguard our borders, the secretary of border management is keen on perimeter protection equipment while the Central Industrial Security Force that guards airports is scouting for biometric or access control for airport security," said a home ministry official.
In fact, the thinking within the security establishment is that it would be necessary to procure even Chemical-Biological-Radiological-Nuclear (CBRN) personal protective equipment to cope with modern terror warfare.
"We have been suffering for long. But post-26/11, we decided we simply had to do something rapidly and drastically," Air Marshal (retd) S.R. Deshpande told IANS.
"What we also need is a data bank to keep track of suspected terrorists, sharing of information between countries affected by terror or potential targets and for that you require a network centric system."
Chidambaram has been focusing his energies on the rollout of the ambitious Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS) and the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID).
The NATGRID will ensure that India has a world-class integrated national security database that can be accessed by the security agencies.
The CCTNS, on the other hand, with an outlay of Rs.20 billion ($400 million), aims at creating a comprehensive and integrated system for enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of policing at the police station level through adoption of e-governance.
Private players are set to reap the benefits.
"We considered 2009 as a launch year for the expo entirely focused on homeland security and we saw over 130 companies from 15 countries participate. Next year we expect larger participation, especially from the US and European countries including France and Russia," Mehul Thakkar, marketing manager of INDESEC, India's only exhibition on homeland security told IANS.
(Ritu Sharma can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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