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Chidambaram’s letter draws the ire of states

Chidambaram’s letter draws the ire of states
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First Published: Thu, Dec 25 2008. 12 30 AM IST

Updated: Thu, Dec 25 2008. 11 07 AM IST
New Delhi: A few state governments have reacted adversely to the “tone and language” of an advisory issued on 17 December by new home minister P. Chidambaram listing step-by-step measures they should undertake to secure their states against terrorism.
In his four-page letter, Chidambaram, who took over after Shivraj Patil resigned owning moral responsibility for the 26 November Mumbai terror strikes, directed the state governments to immediately implement the proposals as there was “no need to lose time discussing the matters”.
Also See Chidambaram’s Letter (PDF)
“The state/UT (union territory) government shall with immediate effect, establish a 24X7 control room to be manned by a young and energetic officer of the rank of DySp/SP in each shift...The chief minister and the home minister should invariably take a meeting every morning with the chief secretary, home secretary, DGP, DG/IG Intelligence and commissioner of police (of the state capital) to review the security situation and issue suitable guidance,” the letter said.
Offensive tone? P. Chidambaram. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
The advisory was Chidambaram’s first communication to chief ministers and comes ahead of a review meeting scheduled for 6 January.
Pointing out that law and order is a state subject, a top official in office of the chief minister of a large state maintained Chidambaram had no constitutional authority to command a chief minister, who is the head of a democratically elected government. “It appears that the attention of the home minister needs to be drawn to the fact that law and order is a state subject,” said this official. “The micro management of police and monitoring of security system is best left to the state government rather than dictating on what the chief minister should do.”
The official didn’t want to be named or his state identified saying the state feared that the Centre may victimize it by not extending full support in their fight against Naxalites.
Arguing that Chidambaram’s list violates basic principles of federalism and decentralization of power, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, Kerala’s home minister, told Mint: “We regret that the Centre has sent us a letter that gives an impression that state governments are some sort of centrally funded organizations. It would hurt Centre-state relations.”
“It (the letter) says the chief minister must hold daily meetings with the home minister, the director general of police, chief secretary and other top officials to take stock of the law and order situation in the country. The chief minister, as you know, can’t be at one place on all days. It is ridiculous ... it is foolish to make such a suggestion,” he added.
Kerala is run by Left parties who, having withdrawn support to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), are now a vocal opposition.
A call to Chidambaram’s mobile phone went unanswered. An official in the home minister’s office asked Mint to email and fax queries but they weren’t answered.
Shakeel Ahmed, minister of state for home affairs at the Centre, told Mint that chief ministers shouldn’t make the “tone and language” of the letter a “big issue.” Ahmed, who said he hadn’t actually seen the letter, said: “It is the duty of the central government to suggest and ask the state governments to take care of law and order situation, especially at a time like this when the terror threats have increased. One should not take it personally because its a communication from government to government. I do not think that language and tone are big issues.”
Mint didn’t immediately contact other governments that had received the letter. It is also likely that the reaction to Chidambaram’s letter will be stronger from non-Congress governments but it is unclear if many chief ministers would speak out at a time when there is a broad consensus about the need to beef up security. The Kerala home minister, for one, claimed the Centre seems to be protecting itself against any future political backlash, saying: “The Centre is trying to put all the burden on the states—the Union government is trying to absolve itself of all responsibility if there is going to be a terror attack.”
But, under Chidambaram’s short reign as home minister, the UPA has already taken several anti-terror policy initiatives, including passing a major legislation on terrorism.
N.P. Ullekh contributed to this story.
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First Published: Thu, Dec 25 2008. 12 30 AM IST
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