Thousands of people across Indian cities would have skipped birthdays and dinners and long-delayed shopping trips on Sunday because of fears of terror attacks.
Terrorism is no more a faraway blip on the radar in conflict areas. It is thumping at the doorsteps of cities that never had any experience of such bombings -- from Lucknow to Varanasi to Jaipur to Bangalore to Ahmedabad. India has entered the era of Easy Terrorism; bombs can be made for as little as Rs 25 in a few minutes.
We suggest ten steps that India should take to take the battle against terror from rhetoric to impact:
Create a network of surveillance cameras:
Britain successfully fought terrorism with them. And they do not cost a bomb. A good quality four-camera system that will pan and take images from all directions for up to 60 feet costs just Rs 11,500.
Five thousands such cameras in New Delhi would cost Rs 57.5 crores. That is worth a single big Bollywood movie – that is the amount Saawariya and Jodha Akbar reportedly earned at the box office.
They will be a deterrent not just against terrorists, but traffic violators, eve-teasers, chain-snatchers and killer drivers. And for places like railway stations and bus terminals, the same cameras will see in darkness as well – for Rs 3,500 more.
"There is no demand of cameras for public safety. People think they are only for spying," Ahmedabad-based surveillance equipment seller Mehul Shah said by telephone hours after the serial blasts in the city.
Pump money into forensics:
India 's forensics capability sucks. We do not believe in using science to tackle crime and terrorism, the most effective way worldwide. Apart from some centres of excellence, little attention has been paid to sprucing up our forensics laboratories in the states. In Jharkhand, it was actually running until recently in a cowshed.
Investment in forensics would not just help get crucial leads in terror cases, but help solve other ordinary crimes.
Give more work to the RTO:
Introduce vehicle tracking and identification systems at the time of car registrations across states, with a central database. Make them mandatory fittings; help out carmakers with tax breaks on the equipment. This is very doable.
Shopkeepers as sleuths:
Low intensity bombs, the kind of which used in most recent bombings, were made from fertilizers and materials commonly available in the market. If we can make internet café owners more aware, vigilant and responsible, why not the hardware store guy and the fertilizer seller? This is admittedly a tough task, but some regulation on sales of potentially deadly chemicals, and education of the sellers, could go a long way. Is a person who looks nothing like a farmer or gardener buying ammonium nitrate?
National ID cards:
More than 180 million Indians do not have even voter ID cards after Rs 1,500 crores have been spent on the project for 15 years. The question of a national identity card – once proposed by the BJP government – remained mired in politics.
Across the border in Pakistan , officials have done it seamlessly: The National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA) has issued 60 million ID cards, and is set to issue them to all 150 million eligible Pakistanis. Pakistan ahs also launched multi-biometric E-Passports with sophisticated security features.
National law on terror:
Bring a national law to deal with terrorism. The 2002 Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act (POTA) was being misused in many areas, but what was needed was to fix those problems, not throw out the law altogether.
Create a Department of National Security:
Dealing with terrorism is a state subject, and officers in many states find themselves at sea. A national organization – perhaps modeled after the National Disaster Management Authority -- should be created that deals directly with terrorism and has specialized crack units all over the country, which seek help as and when required from state colleagues.
National database of suspects:
If a terror suspect from Ahmedabad walks out of India through the land border with Pakistan, the security guard at the immigration counter has no way of knowing who he is. Create a national database of suspects connected in real time to the Interpol database.
Bring in the CBI:
State police in India have a conviction rate of 20 per cent – compared to 70 per cent by the CBI. The agency's hands need to be strengthened and terror cases need to be handed right away to the CBI, not after evidence has been ruined, leads have run out and state police cannot do much.
Police the police:
Last – and the most important – infuse life into the beat constable, and do not bog them down with work that has nothing to do with the police force. The beat constable is the person who will first spot the stranger in the neighbourhood, the unclaimed bag and the suspect late night buzz on the third floor – and possibly save lives.