October 29, 2020
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'No Question Of The Government Being Soft On Terrorism'

'The public debate on the issue of terrorism has, unfortunately, tended to get driven by politics... We are actively considering legislation to further strengthen the substantive anti-terrorism law in line with the global consensus on the fight again

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'No Question Of The Government Being Soft On Terrorism'

Excerpts from PM's speech at Governors Conference

The serial blasts in Delhi four days back (September 13) and in Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Surat earlier are grim reminders of the internal security challenges that we face. Terrorism to-day is an ubiquitous global phenomenon and we are among its major victims. Terrorist outfits currently employ a variety of new skills and techniques – and also carry out suicide missions – which have resulted in their attacks becoming more devastating. The thrust, to-day, is on causing ‘mass casualties’ and most attacks take place where there are large congregations of people as in bazaars, malls, shopping places and mass transportation systems like commuter trains. Terrorist targets also include critical infrastructure and high profile economic installations.

There are many commonalities among the five or six recent blasts – the nature of the explosives used, the triggering mechanisms employed, the placement of explosives, etc. This suggests that the modules responsible are closely linked to one other. The role of Pakistan based terrorist groups can not be minimized but the involvement of local elements in recent blasts adds a new dimension to the terrorist threat. We have reports that certain Pakistan based terrorist outfits are constantly seeking to set up new terrorist modules within our country. This is a matter of utmost concern. We have increased vigilance on our borders. Coastal security is being tightened. But in view of the growing involvement of local elements, this is not enough. Our Security and Intelligence Agencies have, no doubt, been successful in thwarting and pre-empting several terrorist attacks, but as the recent blasts in Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Surat and Delhi indicate, there are still vast gaps in intelligence. These need to be overcome.

Several steps have been taken to improve both policing and intelligence, but a far greater effort is called for. The strength of the Civil Police Force needs to be greatly augmented. Greater emphasis will have to be paid to intelligence – both by the Central Intelligence Bureau and the Intelligence Agencies in the States. The involvement of the public has to increase, and the public made more alive to the danger of bomb threats and random placement of IEDs. This will need a massive people-to- people effort. Use of Closed Circuit TVs in areas where there are large congregations of people will need to be mandated. Greater use of technology, particularly relating to the detection of explosives and interception of Internet traffic will be required.

Let me take this opportunity to say, with the fullest emphasis, that there is no question of the Government being soft on terrorism. The issue is really one of examining the efficacy of the totality of the systems and the mechanisms that we have to deal with terrorist incidents.

The public debate on the issue of terrorism has, unfortunately, tended to get driven by politics, and has centered on certain laws enacted or repealed by Governments of different political persuasions. Our Government has no fixed, inflexible or ideological view in this regard. We have in fact taken the initiative to strengthen various laws like the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. We are actively considering legislation to further strengthen the substantive anti-terrorism law in line with the global consensus on the fight against terrorism.

The issues in contention, in the ongoing debate, basically relate to the procedural aspects of investigation and prosecution of terrorism related offences. Even this aspect is under consideration with the aim of identifying provisions which could be made to further strengthen the hands of the law enforcement agencies, and also, simultaneously, address the apprehensions which led, first to the repeal of TADA, and later of POTA, and about which there are cross party views which cannot be ignored.

A number of practical suggestions are on the table for tightening the machinery to deal with terrorism. One suggestion is to set up a Central Agency to investigate and prosecute all terrorist incidents. This need not necessarily be a Federal Investigative Agency, but could be a Central Agency which can assist the States in investigation whenever a major terrorist event takes place. As this Central Agency would have investigated other similar terrorist crimes in the country, they would have a great deal more of expertise in regard to the investigation and prosecution of such terrorist offences.

Another suggestion that has been made is about establishing a Central Agency to co-ordinate Counter-terrorism strategy. There are already a number of Central Agencies who are involved in determining Counter-terrorism strategy, based on extant situations. Perhaps, there is no need to set up a new Agency, and instead we ought to ensure better coordination and integration among the existing Agencies for devising an effective Counter-terrorism strategy.

Most important of all, to my mind, is closer cooperation between the Centre and the States and among the States themselves. This is particularly important to-day when as we have seen, there is a common strand running through each of the major terrorist incidents. I would welcome your suggestions for devising a more effective counter terrorism strategy.

Finally, I would like to point to the growing concerns and perception among the people at large about the dilution of the writ of the State.

It is a matter of serious concern that dissent and agitations, over any kind of issues, have been increasingly finding expression in mindless destruction of public property, attacks on police posts, and other Government establishments. I am constrained, and feel sad, to observe that all this is not in the national interest and will hurt our progress. In colonial times public property was a symbol of colonial power. Today it belongs to the tax-payer, to the same people who in a state of motivated frenzy, egged on by partisan interests, seek to destroy it.

This is a matter of the utmost concern, and calls for the most serious introspection at the national level. Increasingly, these types of outbursts are found to be centered on identity-based issues. At a time when the world looks upon India as a rising power, the Indian State can not be allowed to become so diminished that it cannot even protect public property. We have decided to call a meeting of the National Integration Council next month in which, I hope, we will be able to frankly and sincerely discuss some of these issues and reach a national consensus.

Let me end by urging you to reflect on these issues and show the way forward in your respective States. I am sure that your knowledge, wisdom and experience can help in a big way in meeting the various challenges that our country faces today. I am confident that through your efforts the office of Governor will acquire a new standing in the eyes of the people. I wish all of you all the very best.

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