Shaken by a spate of high-profile abductions in naxal-affected states, the Centre has started informal discussions on a national hostage policy with state governments and security establishments.
Government officials said the need for a national policy and standard operating procedures to guide government agencies was acutely felt over the last two months, when Maoists abducted two Italians and a legislator in Odisha, and a collector in Chhattisgarh.
Odisha promised to facilitate the release of 25 Maoists, and has already set six of them free. Chhattisgarh, on the other hand, succeeded in effecting the collector’s release in return for setting up a panel of officials to examine cases against tribals."A laid-down policy would help state governments and central agencies draw the line when faced with a hostage situation," a home ministry official said.
Home minister P Chidambaram told Parliament on Friday that though a no-negotiation stance might sound good, it wasn’t practical. Instead, he reportedly advised both states to negotiate with the Maoists, but not give in. Chhattisgarh followed his advice to the letter.
However, not everyone sees the need for a hostage policy.
Former Intelligence Bureau chief Ajit Doval said it wasn’t a policy, but the capacity to respond to such crisis that India lacked and needed to build on. By capacity, he said, he didn’t mean more firepower for commandos, but the intelligence required to carry out a precision operation for securing the hostages’ release.
“Once you have the capacity, you will need political will to carry out an operation,” he said, lamenting over how the states had stood in the way of the National Counter Terrorism Centre, which would have helped bridge the gap in capacity.
This isn’t the first time the government is debating the need for a national hostage policy. The first edition of the United Progressive Alliance government had carried out extensive discussions after the 1999 Kandahar hijacking.
Though it did not lay down a uniform hostage policy back then, it drew up standard
operating procedures prohibiting hijacked planes from taking off, and empowered a high-powered committee to take coercive action for forcing the aircraft to land.