Transforming Police Crucial to Counter-terrorism

The tragedy of the Jaipur blasts - as with virtually every major terrorist outrage in India -is infinitely compounded by the utter obtuseness, the manifest incomprehension and the pervasive disorder and confusion that attend official responses.

Despite an experience with terrorism that has extended over decades, it is evident that the state and its agencies are yet to establish even the most basic protocols of response - at least minimally for the securing of the incident location and the ordered and humane transport of the injured and dead.

The complete elimination of the risk of soft-target terrorism is, of course, nigh impossible. There are, nevertheless, a significant range of measures that can mitigate such risk and ensure that our incident responses display a far greater measure of coherence and efficiency than has been visible in the unending series of terrorist strikes over the past years, culminating in the attacks in Jaipur. The political executive charged with overseeing the nation's security does not, however, display any great awareness of these measures.

Over the first days after the Jaipur incident, in the incessantly televised discussions on the imperatives of response, various political leaders, both at the centre and in the state, gave the impression that a 'failure of intelligence' was principally to be blamed - a cry eagerly taken up by the media - and that they thought that the challenge was simply a matter of 'improving coordination' between New Delhi and Jaipur and 'better sharing of intelligence'.

But this is profoundly misleading. The principal deficiency is not the inability to communicate and act on some abundant flow of intelligence but rather the acute paucity of actionable intelligence, and severe deficits in the capacities for preventive action.

Take the Intelligence Bureau (IB), for example, which has a total of barely 3,500 field personnel engaged in information gathering in this country of 1.2 billion people. The deficits in material, technical and human resource capacities have repeatedly been pointed out by various experts and government committees and, despite the continuous escalation of challenges to India's internal security, successive governments have failed to augment the IB's capacities even to the minimal levels recommended (which would fall well short of what is needed in the present situation).

After the Kargil War in 1999, a comprehensive review of security and intelligence had been undertaken, and this included the work of the Girish Saxena Committee which assessed the country's intelligence apparatus. The Saxena Committee's report had called for massive upgrading of technical, imaging, signal, electronic counter-intelligence capabilities, and a system-wide reform of conventional human-intelligence gathering. Every suggestion in the report was accepted by the Group of Ministers who released their recommendations in February 2001.

Nevertheless, the recommendations of the report remain unimplemented, beyond a few symbolic changes. The Saxena Committee had, for instance, recommended at least an additional 3,000 cadres in the Intelligence Bureau. This was in 2001, and till the present just 1,400 additional posts have been sanctioned, though the requirements would by now be substantially greater.

Another significant recommendation called for a 'multi-agency set-up' to confront the challenges of terrorism and this was, at least formally, implemented through the creation of two new wings under the IB - the Multi Agency Centre (MAC) and the Joint Task Force on Intelligence (JTFI).

MAC was charged with collecting and coordinating terrorism-related information from across the country; the JTFI is responsible for passing on this information to the state governments in real-time.

Regrettably, both MAC and JTFI remain under-staffed, under-equipped and ineffective, with even basic issues relating to recruitment and administration unsettled. Their principal objective, the creation of a national terrorism database, has made little progress. The JTFI was also given the responsibility of upgrading counter-terrorism capabilities in the State Police Forces, as part of its mandate to improve intelligence gathering across the country, but no actual programme of training or capacity enhancement has been initiated.

Such deficits at the central government are infinitely compounded by the infirmities of the policing and intelligence systems in the states. Peaceful states like Rajasthan are invariably caught off-guard by the first wave of terrorist attacks, because the police and intelligence apparatus is simply not trained or oriented to deal with such threats. In any event, India is enormously under-policed and intelligence establishments in most states are, at best, rudimentary.

Besides, the police-population ratio for the whole country averages an abysmal 126 per 100,000. Compare this with most Western countries, where this ratio normally ranges between 225 and 500 policemen per 100,000 population.

The Rajasthan police are much worse off, with just 104 policemen per 100,000 population (as on December 31, 2006), well below the national average, and a police density (policemen per 100 square kilometres) of 19.1, as against a national average of 44.4. Police leadership deficits also afflict most states - and Rajasthan has a deficit of over 18.5 per cent against sanctioned posts in its IPS cadre, and varying deficits in its lower ranks.

These quantitative deficits are vastly augmented by qualitative deficiencies in manpower profile, training, equipment, technical and technological aids, orientation and mandate, with a cumulative effect that leaves the bulk of the Indian police forces firmly rooted in the 19th rather than in the 21st Century.

The challenge of counter-terrorism in India is not merely a question of tweaking 'coordination' and setting up new committees - it is far more fundamental, structural, and demands a transformation, a virtual reinvention, of how we look at and practise policing in this country.

(Ajay Sahni is executive director, Institute for Conflict Management. He can be reached at ajaisahni@gmail.com)


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