After suffering 12 years of red tape, misguided savings measures and short cuts gone wrong, India's top spies are edging closer to their dream of a new office in central Delhi.
But there's one final catch: To cut costs, the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) may have to share its high-security digs with another government department.
Officials at R&AW -- who are obsessively secretive -- are dead against the proposal and are working overtime to ensure that spooks who guard files on China don't have to work cheek-by-jowl with, say, civil engineers who oversee the city's drainage.
The new 11-storey building stands on prime real estate, a stone's throw from the iconic Lodhi Gardens, where Delhi's movers and shakers take their morning walks. But, still unoccupied four years after it was completed, it cuts a sorry figure. Windows are broken and R&AW insiders speak of crumbling internal walls and seepage in the monsoons.
The shared workplace scheme -- details of which are being worked out -- is only the latest twist in a journey from hell that started in 2001 when, in the wake of 9/11, R&AW swung into revamp mode.
It wanted to house under one roof all its activities including an expanded communication interception unit, secret divisions like the China-focused Special Frontier Force (SFF), and admin functions like pay and accounts.
"Housing them together would have ensured secrecy, security and efficiency," a former R&AW chief told HT on the condition of anonymity.
The plan for a Rs. 114 crore-building was sanctioned in principle by the Atal Behari Vajpayee's NDA government. But then babudom met bean-counting: Someone suggested that costs be kept under Rs. 100 crore in order to reduce the number of permissions needed. So designs were changed and a basement done away with, bringing down costs neatly to Rs. 98 crore.
But this was too clever by half. Once the building was up, it was noticed that sanction for the new design and finances had never been granted by the competent authority.
So the move to new headquarters was stalled, and an inquiry ordered against then Joint Secretary (Personnel) N Srivastava, who is now an additional secretary. It also prevented R&AW from promoting Rajeev Kumar, a senior officer handling the sensitive special operations desk and who retired as an additional secretary earlier this year.
Promotions of three other officers handling China and Pakistan were also kept pending for over a year and were pushed through last week only after sustained pressure from R&AW chief Alok Joshi.
No one is clear on when the move will finally happen. The insiders estimate it will cost Rs. 20 crore to refurbish and repair the new building, effectively nullifying the cost-cutting.