Seven-year-old federal agency proposal may see light of day

Seven-year-old federal agency proposal may see light of day

New Delhi: The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government pushed ahead with a seven-year-old proposal to create a federal agency to tackle terror effectively, even as Maharashtra looked set to get a new top team with deputy chief minister R.R. Patil’s resignation being accepted by chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, whose resignation, in turn, will be accepted by the Congress, according to some of the party’s leaders, who did not want to be identified.

These leaders said Union power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde would replace Deshmukh.

The Congress was yet to make an announcement to this effect till late Monday evening.

Addressing the nation the day after the Mumbai terror attacks, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said that his government would “immediately set up a Federal Investigation Agency to go into terrorist crimes of this kind and ensure that the guilty are brought to book".

The proposal is identical to one put forth in writing to the Lok Sabha on 20 November 2001 by I.D. Swami, minister of state for home in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which said: “Government has proposed to set up a federal agency to deal with certain specified grave offences, which have inter-state and/or nation-wide ramifications."

The proposal was referred to by then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on 8 February 2003 in a meeting with the chief ministers of various states on internal security.

Prime Minister Singh himself referred to the proposal twice in 2007, the first time on 4 October when he was speaking to police officers and the second time on 20 December, during a meeting with chief ministers.

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Both governments, however, appear to have been unable to create this agency.

India’s new home minister P. Chidambaram, who took charge on Monday, declined to comment on the issue, and said he would make a detailed statement later in the week.

BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar claimed his party had failed to create the agency because of paucity of time. The NDA came to power in 1999 and was voted out in 2004.

“Advaniji had suggested the creation of this agency. However, the government changed after it, and had we had enough time, we would have set it up."

Meanwhile, the party, now the principal Opposition party, chose to emphasize on the need for “stronger anti-terror laws".

“I am personally a supporter of the federal agency. Federal agency creation does not require a Constitutional amendment. You can, by executive notification, create a federal agency. It will be a step in the right direction. However, a federal agency without a strong anti-terror law will be a toothless agency," said BJP general secretary Arun Jaitely.

The Left Front, which parted ways with the UPA government earlier this year and is known to be a strong critic of both the BJP and the Congress, chose to be moderate in its response.

“This is nothing new and the issue is under discussion. But it is something that is naturally a process and we cannot impose such a thing. The purpose of such an agency is to tackle crimes which have a pan-India character. However, this has to be done by taking various state governments into confidence so as not to undermine the federal nature of our Constitution and many modalities need to be considered," said D. Raja, national secretary of the Communist Party of India.

Meanwhile, political analysts say that the political crisis facing the UPA in the wake of the terror attacks is far from over.

“The Congress has really got bigger problems ahead as it has to convince the angry public. Punishing those leaders, who lacked accountability and ability, is one step. But it has to develop a coordination between ability, analysis and action areas between the Centre and the state, between the civilian law enforcement agencies and between army, navy, air force and intelligence agencies. It is a big job ahead," said New Delhi-based analyst Prem Shankar Jha

Congress president Sonia Gandhi held separate meetings with Shinde, Chidambaram, defence minister A.K. Antony and her political secretary Ahmed Patel.

As attempts to save its face from the criticism from all quarters for its failure in handling the situation intensified, Congress leaders were huddled in a series of meetings at Gandhi’s 10 Janpath official residence.

Besides Shinde, another name that did the rounds as a replacement for Deshmukh was the minister attached to the Prime Minister’s Office, Prithviraj Chavan.

Shinde declined comment, while Chavan could not be reached immediately.

K.P. Narayana Kumar and Utpal Bhaskar of Mint and PTI also contributed to this story.

Graphics by Sandeep Bhatnagar / Mint

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