If the December 2005 terrorist attack on the Indian Institute of Science campus in Bangalore was the ‘wake up’ call that Karnataka is no longer a State where internal security can be taken for granted, the July 25 serial bombs in the city have shaken Bangaloreans really hard. Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa admitted in the legislature that Bangalore has become ‘a safe haven for terrorists’.
Investigations into the serial blasts are being conducted by a special investigation team led by Joint Commissioner of Police Gopal B Hosur. No arrests have been made so far by the authorities and Hosur remains tight-lipped about developments in the case.
Meanwhile speculations abound and some say it’s the work of a small local group while others point to the SIMI, some even say it could be the handiwork of a single individual.
What is even more alarming is that the state administration is ill-equipped to face the security crisis. There is no dedicated force to fight terrorism nor does a clear anti-terror policy exist. "It’s only when a bomb blast occurs that we talk of the need for such a force," says former Inspector General and Director General of Police, M D Singh.
Lack of anti-terror infrastructure
One look at the existing infrastructure of the state police to deal with terror tells us that it is in urgent need of reform.
Anti Terror Cell: The only body in the state that addresses anti-terror issues exclusively is the Anti-Terror cell or ATC under the Intelligence wing of the police department. This body is headed by M K Nagaraj an Inspector General of Police (IGP)-level officer. The IGP is assisted by an Superintendent of Police (SP) and two Deputy Superintendents of Police (DSP). Speaking at a Conference on Internal Security, Nagaraj admitted there is no clear and categorical policy laid down to proactively predict and prevent terrorist attacks.
State Director General of Police (DGP) R Srikumar admits "The main function of the ATC is to collate information, analyse it and send reports”. The ATC does not have the power to arrest any suspect. In reality its role has been confined to passing on terror alerts received from central intelligence agencies. Though there has been talk of revamping the cell for several years, nothing has been done.
The Intelligence Wing: The state’s Intelligence Wing of which the ATC itself is a part appears to be a dumping ground for out-of-favour officers. As one senior official puts it "It is used as a convenient posting by many officers who want to stay on in the capital. Nobody comes here for a long stint".
Bomb Squad: The state, at present, has one bomb disposal squad stationed in Bangalore under the Intelligence wing. The 25-strong squad, possesses a high level of skill sets needed to detect and defuse bombs of various kinds and personnel on the teams are trained to detect bombs, isolate them and sanitise the area where they have been kept, says DGP Srikumar.
The squad has specialised equipment to detect and defuse bombs and it can be sent to any part of Karnataka by road, in case of emergencies. Yet it is the only squad which has to be pressed into service to meet bomb threats anywhere in the state.
After the July 25 bomb blasts in Bangalore, the state police have been voicing the need for additional bomb detection and disposal squads in Karnataka. Srikumar says that more squads are needed which can be posted in different district headquarters.
Karnataka Prevention of Organised Crimes Act (KCOCA): This law was enacted in 2002 but remains unimplemented, nor have special courts been notified to hear cases booked under it. However, as has been the case with similar laws in other states, human rights concerns linger over the law itself.
Need for Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) with apprehending power
While Karnataka is still talking about reform neighbouring states Andhra Pradesh and Maharastra have already put anti-terror mechanisms in place. The anti-terror outfit set up by the Andhra Pradesh government after the 2007 Hyderabad blasts has 1,500 personnel drawn from different wings of the state police. Maharashtra’s ATS has successfully investigated the Bombay blasts.
Srikumar agrees that the state needs an anti-terror body that performs the role of collection of intelligence, investigation, and apprehending culprits. The real advantage of having such a body would be that it would ensure perfect co-ordination and would ensure speed in anti-terror operations.
Successive Home Ministers have talked of setting up an ATS. The last such prounouncement was made in 2006 in the aftermath of the London terror attacks and arrest of Kafeel and Sabeel Ahmed. The then home minister M P Prakash had stated that an ATS replicating that of Mumbai would be set up. The best men from among the state police would be recruited and they would be given special training and additional pay and perks, he had said.
Repeated pleas from police and the opposition for reform and modernisation of the state’s Intelligence set-up have been ignored by governments too busy cobbling up unstable coalitions. Several recommendations, including those given by the Ramalingam Committee which was drafted by three former City Police Commissioners lie unused.
M D Singh, who was one of the committee members says, "The police cannot prevent terror attacks unless they nab terrorists, which depends on effective intelligence gathering. Collecting intelligence from terror groups is extremely tricky. Techniques like planting insiders are to be resorted to." The department has to be staffed with men with the right aptitude and skills he adds.
Senior police officials also point out that strong political will is needed to go after those who are training and giving shelter to terrorists. Apart from emergency meetings held in times of crisis such as the July 25 bombing, there are no regular meetings held by the Home Ministry to discuss anti-terror measures.
A combination of administrative laxity and lack of political will are allowing the serious security crisis to linger on both in Bangalore and the state. ⊕