Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s call for the creation of a Central agency to investigate and tackle crimes such as terrorism and drug smuggling comes at an appropriate juncture. The last two decades have shown that states are incapable of stemming the tide of such crimes. However, it may not be easy to create such a body.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
The Constitution lists law and order, which includes curbing crime, as a state subject. When the Constitution was being framed, it was realized that it would be counterproductive to hand over this function to the Centre. Not only would it be impractical, but it would have been ineffective as crime is correlated strongly with local conditions. A Central agency would have few means to gather local knowledge.
Much has changed since then. Politicization of the police forces, interference at both the investigation and prosecution stages and unwillingness to control crime have led to a situation where the states utterly lack the skills required to handle situations that emerge from terrorist atrocities of the kind that took place in Jaipur and elsewhere.
The fact is that terrorists face few costs while moving across states to execute crimes. Police forces, however, face a multiplicity of jurisdictions that range from thana to district to state boundaries. By the time they get their act together, the terrorists scamper. Crime has come a complete circle and now there is a grave asymmetry between what terrorists do and what state police forces are capable of. Central involvement is no longer expensive in terms of coordination: With technology, experience and expertise gained since the Mumbai blasts of 1993, and even earlier, a well-funded and empowered agency can do much to control terrorism.
It’s not as if the need for such an agency was not felt earlier. As early as 1946, the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act led to the creation of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). But CBI can’t take up cases on its own: It needs permission from state governments to investigate crimes. Cases such as the Scarlett Keeling case in Goa show that by the time CBI moves in, the investigation has been botched, and securing a conviction is almost impossible.
At the moment, the prospects for creating such an agency are dim. Article 368(2) of the Constitution requires that amendments in the Seventh Schedule, which demarcates the subjects under Central and state domains, also be approved by at least half of the state legislatures. States will not allow dilution of their powers.
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