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Pandering to insecurity

In a country where social prestige is equated with public display of power, it is natural that government-sponsored security (Z, Z+, Y and X categories) is greatly coveted.

india Updated: Jul 03, 2007 00:07 IST

In a country where social prestige is equated with public display of power, it is natural that government-sponsored security (Z, Z+, Y and X categories) is greatly coveted. Over the years, the demand for security has risen and with it the costs. This has forced the Centre to think of outsourcing VIP security with the aim of cutting costs (Rs 800 crore annually) and reducing the burden on about 10,000 personnel. If this proposal clears the political roadblocks, security will be provided at State cost only to those who actually need it, and only after an assessment of threat by security agencies. Others who don’t qualify but want security cover will have to pay for the services. Last year, the Special Protection Group spent around Rs 154.32 crore on security and this year the estimates are pegged at Rs 113.73 crore plus.

In 2000, the government had admitted that often the ‘protectees’ themselves are found to entertain threat perceptions and demand privileges like government accommodation on security considerations. At the time, the government had said that security would be provided at State cost only if the threat comes from militants and terrorists. “Existence of threat to an individual from his professional rivals will not by itself be the basis of provision of security… except in cases where such threats emanates from organised mafia,” the new policy on security of individuals said. Yet, all talk of reviewing and downsizing VIP security seems to have had the opposite effect: the number of persons provided protection by the Centre has actually gone up by another 71 since the UPA took over. Many of those decisions were guided more by politics than security.

Some time ago the Delhi High Court had termed VIP security “distasteful, obtrusive and obnoxious” for the public and had directed the home ministry to inform it of steps taken in cases where security threats had been “overplayed”. Meanwhile, the police forces have also begun complaining of overwork. Delhi Police figures show that of the 60,000 personnel at its disposal, over 7,000 are deployed for VIP security. The average citizen probably doesn’t mind the expenditure that goes into protecting the President and the Prime Minister. But it is the insistence of just about every politico that he or she be given security cover that angers people. The government would do well to quickly push through the reforms required and formulate a policy that will provide a less intrusive and lean and effective security structure.