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Waiting for a signal

The Centre should be able to motivate the state governments to invest and participate in modernisation drives and also ensure a coordinated training for the police forces, writes Subimal Bhattacharjee.

india Updated: Nov 28, 2008 21:50 IST

On November 23, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh delivered a speech at the annual Directors-General of Police conference where he spoke about the need to have a “networked security architecture” for the police system. Three days later, India witnessed its most ferocious terrorist attack in Mumbai. On Thursday, the PM addressed the nation and repeated the same message: the augmentation of the whole policing infrastructure and the need for a federal investigation agency. Then, he went a bit further to say that existing terror laws will be tightened. That’s all very fine, but these things take time to be up and running. Here, we have a war-like situation.

Singh’s reference to having a ‘networked security architecture’ for handling internal security needs to be devised and implemented immediately. Such a system should enable the policeman on the ground to be able to connect with the headquarters with the help of an advanced communication system that allows the flow of voice and data both ways. Such an effort should have been part of the 10-year police modernisation drive that started in 2001. Unfortunately, the whole programme has been a failure and the state of police communications remains primitive.

The existing POLNET does not meet 21st century requirements, never mind aspirations. So a newly-defined communications network has to be in place to cover the multi-level police set-up across the country. Various databases need to be created and easily exchanged between the state and central police forces. Also, the forces need to be trained and oriented towards such kind of work. Crisis and disaster management, along with an emergency response mechanism, has to function as part of the same robust network.

The PM has given 100 days to the task force under the National Security Advisor to come up with a detailed road map of an integrated net-centric capability. A security infrastructure where intelligence gathering, policing and investigations are well entrenched and able to coordinate with each other should be firmly in place.

Apart from an improved secure communication network, the cyber security aspects of policing have to be geared up. The intelligence-gathering mechanism has to be reoriented towards cyberspace. At an equal pace, investigative capacities of the police forces have to be bolstered. For a long time, the government ignored at its own peril the need to address the issues of cyberspace security. Its argument was that the nation wasn’t very well networked and hence the vulnerability was low. However, with email threats accompanying almost every terrorist attack, finally the penny has dropped that terrorists have gone much ahead than envisaged by our intelligence and security forces.

The particular incident of the stolen wi-fi internet connection of an American citizen in Navi Mumbai to send a threat about the planting of a bomb in Ahmedabad in August this year, and then a more calculated repeat of the same method during the Delhi blasts a month later, have clearly shown how meticulously planned activities were simply out of the radar of our intelligence agencies.

But such a network will not succeed if a matching organisational boost-up does not happen. The security apparatus needs to be revamped and the roles for the multiple agencies need to be clearly demarcated so that turf battles are kept to the minimum. There should be coordination among the various agencies and the states despite law and order remaining a state subject. The Centre should be able to motivate the state governments to invest and participate in modernisation drives and also ensure a coordinated training for the police forces. The challenge remains for the existing police forces to be motivated towards technology policing overnight. The government needs to look at the way the Department of Homeland Security was raised in the US in 2003 after 9/11.

Subimal Bhattacharjee writes on cyber-security issues