Chidambaram: A man with no time to lose

January 14th, 2009 - 3:10 pm ICT by IANS  

Shivraj PatilNew Delhi, Jan 14 (IANS) Having described the Mumbai terror strike as the tipping point to revamp national security, India’s Home Minister P. Chidambaram has set for himself a blistering pace of 150 days to put in place critical strategies and strengthen intelligence systems to thwart further attacks.Though Chidambaram’s to-do list is a detailed one, home ministry officials say much of it is doable with a person like him at the helm. The pressing task at hand is to ensure that proper equipment, weaponry and communication systems are procured for police and paramilitary forces to meet the challenges of new age terror.

Among the most prominent ministers of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), Chidamabaram, 63, who also has an MBA from Harvard Business School under his belt, is no stranger to the home ministry having held the interior ministry portfolio under then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s government in 1986.

“He (Chidambaram) had already given the heads of these forces and intelligence agencies a deadline of Jan 10 to provide details of the money earmarked for purchases and, if it has not been spent, to spell out the reasons and pinpoint responsibility,” said a ministry official.

With seven paramilitary forces under his charge, former finance minister Chidambaram, who took over the home portfolio Dec 1 last year - the beginning of the 150-day deadline - is expected to conduct a personal review of each of these forces from Jan 15 to assess their needs, shortcomings and how best to utilise them for their optimal functioning.

The home minister is already on record as stating that states must raise their own forces so that the demand on paramilitary forces comes down.

Unlike his predecessor Shivraj Patil, who was roundly criticised for not being proactive, Chidambaram has literally caught the bull by its horns since he took over — holding a series of meetings with officials, working towards deadlines and more importantly fixing responsibility.

“After the Mumbai attacks, he was an angry person which is natural. But the way he has been conducting security meetings shows that he means business and there is certainly a new work ethic which is in place,” a senior official confided to IANS.

With three powerful blasts rocking Guwahati on New Year’s Day, killing six people, and the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) emerging as the prime outfit behind these blasts and one on Jan 9, Chidambaram has mounted a serious offensive against the secessionist group.

“At a high-level security review on Assam, Chidambaram favoured stepped up operations against the ULFA in both the jungles and the towns where cadres might be hiding,” said an intelligence official who said he could not be identified.

On border fencing in Assam, the home minister has suggested speedy raising of riverine police as a 20-km stretch was difficult to fence.

Before the end of the month he will also individually visit the northeastern states for a focused study of their security concerns.

Much before the internal security conclave in Delhi last week, Chidambaram sent out a letter to all chief ministers directing them to implement a raft of measures such as securing important private establishments and deploying commandos at iconic structures round the clock.

In addition, he wanted the states to establish a 24X7 control room to be manned by a young and energetic officer of the rank of deputy superintendent of police that would be the hub to receive and disseminate information on terrorism.

He also wanted the chief minister and the home minister to hold a meeting every morning with the chief secretary, home secretary and the police top brass to review the security situation and issue suitable guidance.

Besides devising ways to thoroughly overhaul policing along the shores, Chidambaram has been emphasising proper coordination among the navy, coast guard and police for strengthening security along the country’s over 7,500 km coastline, dotted with 12 major ports and 180 minor ports.

Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta has held two meetings to tone up coastal security and ordered that all fishing boats should be registered with the police department to maintain a list of their owners.

In a recent interview, Chidambaram, after setting up the National Investigation Agency to tackle terror crimes and strengthening terror laws, said he had set a tight timetable to get tasks implemented.

“Well, I have a 150-day plan and we have just completed 32 days. So, it is a fairly tight timetable and there is not much time to lose… But I hope I can assure some results.”

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