A Federal Agency against Terror strikes

Every time terror strikes, it has become customary for home minister Shivraj Patil to talk of the need for a federal agency, which, unlike the CBI, will have direct jurisdiction to investigate offences that are considered to have national and international implications. This radical proposal has however made little progress thanks to the resistance offered by states, which fear that such an agency would erode their existing monopoly over law and order. This is despite the fact that while upholding central legislations like TADA and POTA, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that since terror threatens the security of the whole country, it falls under the first item of the Union List, "Defence of India," rather than the first item of the State List, "Public order."The Centre-states conflict over the proposed federal agency seems all the more untenable considering that US is endowed with FBI despite a full-fledged federal system in which the states have far greater autonomy than they do in India.Since it is both a federal criminal investigative body and a domestic intelligence agency, FBI has been able to go all out to ensure that there hasn't been a single major terror strike in US since 9/11. In fact, the top investigative priority of FBI is avowedly to "protect the United States from terrorist attack." There is simply no such investigative agency in India mandated to take on terror at the national level. The CBI, which is primarily meant to deal with corruption, comes in if and when a state refers a terror case to it.As a result, the serial blasts on successive days in Bangalore and Ahmedabad, for all their similarities, are being probed by the local police of respective states, with little scope for institutional coordination or checking if there was any nexus between the two.The idea of a federal agency was first mooted in 2000 by Patil's predecessor, L K Advani, when he asked the K Padmanabhaiah Committee on police reforms to examine the feasibility of declaring certain crimes as federal offences "to enable a central agency to undertake investigation, without any loss of time."The Padmanabhaiah Committee not only recommended the creation of a federal agency but also put terrorism at the top of the proposed list of federal offences.In 2003, the Justice V S Malimath Committee on reforms of the criminal justice system sought to make the proposal more palatable to states by suggesting that federal agency may have concurrent jurisdiction over serious offences such as terrorism, war against state, arms and drugs trafficking, hijacking, money laundering and crimes against national infrastructure. The implication is that the role of the state police in probing any such offence will "automatically abate" if the proposed federal agency chooses to take it up.For all the exertions made by these committees, and for all his tough postures on terrorism, Advani failed to forge a consensus among states on the proposed federal agency. Though the list of terror strikes has since grown much longer, Shivraj Patil has proved to be as ineffective in realizing this much needed legal reform.

No comments: