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Advantage militants as law lacks teeth

The New Year attack in Rampur's CRPF camp highlighted the fatal flaws in India’s fight against terrorism, reports Neelesh Misra.

india Updated: Jan 02, 2008 03:08 IST
Neelesh Misra

Hours after attackers in Rampur showcased the big holes in India’s fight against terrorism, central and state government officials were fighting over terrorism.

Central intelligence officials said they had alerted their state counterparts to the possibility of such an attack. Shrugging off blame, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati said officials had in turn warned officials of the CRPF, at whose camp the attack occurred.

The New Year attack highlighted the fatal flaws in India’s fight against terrorism — how it remains primarily a state subject, and how a crippling lack of information-sharing, databases, a tough legal framework, training and men rarely takes this so-called war beyond rhetoric.

An amended version of a 1967 law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, is currently India’s main counter-terrorism legislation. Tackling terrorism is the preserve of the states — which may, under “normal” circumstances, seek forces, financial help and other expert guidance from the Centre.

After the repeal of national anti-terror laws TADA and POTA, the government has repeatedly rejected suggestions of a new law against terrorism, which gives the federal government powers but not sweeping enough to enable human rights violations. Alongside, the idea of a national body to tackle terrorism — like the US Department of Homeland Security — remains bogged down by political concerns.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called Naxalite violence the biggest internal threat. But deep into India’s hinterland, political claims over tackling terrorism seem like a farce at the police stations where there is no electricity, telephones do not work, police vehicles and generators have erratic diesel supplies.

Worse, insurgencies have become an alibi for misgovernance in most violence-affected states. India’s biggest anti-terror blank check, Security-Related Expenses, has been spent, says the Comptroller and Auditor-General, on renovating kitchens, repairing pump sets and buying guesthouses.

The Rampur attack came more than a month after a dozen-odd people were killed in bombings at three courts in Uttar Pradesh. Mayawati had then announced the setting up of a special police unit to tackle terrorism. But the truth is that apart from the Greyhound force in Andhra Pradesh and perhaps Maharashtra, few states have shown the willingness or ability to locally deal with the before-and-after of terrorism.

States barely keep databases and rarely share them. Those databases are rarely accessible in real time, especially after an attack. Of the 75-odd border checkpoints, less than half have computers and far fewer are connected to information networks.

And when terror cases go to court, investigations are mired in the 20 per cent conviction rate of state governments — compared to 70 per cent for the CBI, which should be increasingly allowed to deal with terror trials. Judges specialising in terrorism cases are lacking — and that cannot yet be expected in a nation which has 10.5 judges per million citizens, compared with 107 per million in the US.

The only major success comes from the Financial Intelligence Unit, which is using sophisticated electronic surveillance in the area of blocking out terrorism finance. But with some 750 million people in India without bank accounts, and many remittances coming in through hawala, it is a battle far more complex than the click of a mouse.