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India Inc wants CISF cover. Is the govt ready?

business Updated: Feb 17, 2009 01:11 IST
Aloke Tikku

From the Ambani brothers to the Tatas, India Inc is queuing up at the Ministry of Home Affairs to seek security cover of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) commandos who are trained and armed to keep terrorists at bay.

The ministry has ordered an audit of the public and private sector to assess the security requirements at new locations and optimise deployment at the 300-plus public sector installations. The security audit also covers big hotels in metros like Mumbai’s Taj Hotel and beaches frequented by foreign tourists. “The list of companies (which have sought security) is getting longer by the day,” said a senior home ministry official.

An ordinance to amend the CISF Act was promulgated in early January. It is due to come up for parliamentary approval this week. The amendment allows the CISF to be posted at private sector installations and gives legal cover to the paramilitary force for protection of Indian missions abroad.

Requests have already come in from nearly two-dozen companies like Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Petroleum, Anil Ambani’s Reliance Energy, National Stock Exchange, Ambuja Cements, Jindal Steel & Power, Tata Steel, JayPee Group, biotechnology major Biocon and several IT companies, including Infosys.

But the security cover is not going to be made available to everyone for asking. “The audit will determine the kind of security cover that should be extended, if at all,” said a home ministry official.

For now, the home ministry has drawn up a three-tier priority list that has crucial sectors like power, atomic energy, space, airports, science and technology at the top. The second priority includes major units in Naxalite or insurgency-affected areas. Private sector units that do not fall in either of the categories but may face a significant threat come last.

The home ministry hasn’t made up its mind if it should charge the private sector the same rates as the public sector or a higher rate. Public sector installations where the CISF is deployed also have to reimburse the paramilitary force for the security cover.

At the heart of this debate within the home ministry is whether the additional security cover for the private sector is a part of the government’s sovereign responsibilities. The next big question is: Should the government levy a higher price on the private sector for CISF security?

Home ministry officials, however, made it clear that the CISF personnel — at existing and new locations — would get out of watch and ward functions. Instead, the CISF commandos would be posted at crucial locations and come into the picture in case of a need.

Union Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta told the standing committee of parliament tasked to examine the home ministry legislation that CISF deployment was aimed at “protecting critical areas” relating to access control and surveillance.

“The other access control should be in the hands of private security guards. However, wireless communication system would be maintained by the CISF. In case of any problem, the Quick Reaction Team of the CISF would immediately rush to the spot,” he told the panel.

In case of IT majors, the home ministry favours positioning CISF commandos at locations from where they can extend cover to multiple units at the same time.