New Delhi: The cabinet committee on security (CCS) on Monday partly cleared the National Intelligence Grid (Natgrid) project, a Central information database for real-time information sharing among intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
CCS cleared the first two non-controversial phases, but held back approval for two later phases that will require legal amendments, said two government officials familiar with the development. The first two phases involve planning, setting up infrastructure and efficient sharing of information that is available in the existing legal system, they said.
“A detailed briefing and presentation about the Natgrid project along with safeguards and oversight mechanisms was given by the ministry of home affairs (MHA) to the members of the CCS here today (Monday),” the government said in a statement. “The CCS has given in-principle approval for the project and has instructed MHA to proceed accordingly.”
Mint was first to report that CCS was likely to clear home minister P. Chidambaram’s ambitious project on 6 June. The project was conceived during Chidambaram’s US visit in 2009.
Phase 0, or the initial phase, deals with decisions on the kind of information to be collected, requirement of hardware and software and hiring of human resource consultants, the official said. It also involves mining and retention of relevant data. Sectors such as railways and airlines will be asked to collect information in a specified format, the officials said. Phase 1 will involve execution of the project, where Central agencies will be given access to the information in real time under a new retrieval system, the officials said.
Phase 1 is largely non-controversial as information, which can be obtained under current legal system, will be shared among agencies, according to the officials. “Instead of papers, the information will travel in electronic form,” one of the officials said.
Some ministries and stakeholders have expressed serious reservations about the the last two phases. “It could not be cleared as Phase 2 and 3 go beyond present legal system. To implement these, the government has to carry out legal amendments and empower the law enforcement agencies,” the official said.
The second official said it could take three-four years before the project is fully implemented. “We don’t know if the required infrastructure and skills are available in the country. So the cost and timelines are tentative,” the official said. The estimated cost could be Rs 4,000-5,000 crore.
Once in place, 11 agencies will have access to Natgrid, including the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing, the Military Intelligence, the Directorate of Air Intelligence, the Directorate of Naval Intelligence, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, the National Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council.
The agencies will also have access to details of phone calls, credit card transactions, visa and immigration records, property records and driving licences of all citizens. “It will be a tool like Google through which Central agencies will share information in real time,” the official said. “States government will be given access later.”
The two officials cited above said the position of Natgrid chief will be open to all Indians.
Last week, the government extended the tenure of Natgrid chief executive officer Raghu Raman by six months. Raman, a former head of Mahindra Special Services Group, writes a column for Mint.