The following is a complete version of the interview with Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, who was talking exclusively to Prabhu Chawla, Editorial Director, The New Indian Express Group.
Q. But do you feel that what is happening now is they are not framing the issues in legal terms and not answering in legal language?
A: In many cases yes and in some cases no.
Q: For example…?
A: For example, I’m told that they have now said that the computerisation of the PDS system must be done by a particular date and under the supervision of the court. That I think is not a legal question and the answer is not a purely legal answer. In the 1970s, the court took over… a group of companies in Kanpur and tried to run it under the court’s supervision. The whole thing collapsed.
In the Bhopal Gas tragedy case, the court appointed a trust to run the hospital. The trust was a complete failure and now finally we have got orders from the court that the hospital be entrusted to the government.
Q. But now the court giving you instructions means the previous action, whatever the government action was there, was obviously not legally correct. Whether it was Bhopal Gas tragedy… you are asking for review for the order of the past…
A: What you are asking now is a purely legal issue. Whether the court was right in quashing the charges under 302 and asking them to be tried only under a lesser charge is a matter for which we have filed a curative petition. Judgment has been reserved, so I don’t think we should comment on that now.
Q: But it was fallout of an action by the government. The government kept quiet on that after they accepted the verdict of the court.
A: I cannot answer why the government kept quiet for so long. All I can say is that when the matter came to a Group of Ministers chaired by me, we recommended that a curative petition should be filed and that the charge under 302 should be restored.
Q: What I am asking is that the impression is that the government also acts under judicial pressures now….
A: I’m not sure…
Q: If you thought, as the chairman of a Group of Ministers, we should file a curative petition it means you were convinced that the order of that day was judicially not correct?
A: That is what we are saying…
Q: The government at that point in time whichever government was in power yours or somebody else’s… the fundamental question or the big question is government performing what it is supposed to perform?
A: See, in many times, when the government does something which is contrary to the law, the courts must strike it down. If the government does not perform its statutory duty the court must issue a mandamus directing the government to perform its statutory duties. On that there is no difference at all, that is the traditional function of the court.
The writ of certiorari and the writ of mandamus are the two powerful instruments which the court has apart from other writs that they can issue.
…The debate becomes wider when you are asked to decide questions which are not framed purely in legal terms and the answer cannot be given in purely legal terms.
Q: You had proposed NCTC an overarching body but now it appears that the plan has been shelved?
A: It has not been shelved. It has not been taken up in the CCS. The paper is still there; it has not been rejected or shelved. It has not yet been taken up by the cabinet committee on security.
Q: So that is not a priority anymore?
A: It is my priority but when…
Q: But the finance ministry and the defence ministry do not agree?
A: Nobody has said that they agree or don’t agree. They are studying the paper and the CCS has to meet on the subject. It is only at the meeting we will know whether there are differences and how to overcome those differences.
Q: You are still for it?
A: I am absolutely convinced that there must by an NCTC. I know of no major country in the world which does not have a national counter terrorism centre.
Q: But you have so many bodies in the home ministry, so many overlapping agencies — you have got NIA, you have got NCTC, you have got IB and other agencies… their functions may be different, I am not getting into what they are going to do, but don’t you think there is going to be conflicting intelligence floating around making it difficult…
A: In fact, some degree of redundancy must be built into the system so that we are not dependent only on one source for intelligence and information. We must rely on multiple sources for intelligence and information.
Q: But then there will be turf war, conflict of information…
A: That is why… if you rely only upon one source of information you will not get all the information. It is only when there are multiple sources and as far as counter terrorism is concerned, a body then receives all the information and will assess the quality of the information and then form a judgment. That is the way to go about it in counter-terrorism.
Q: You have got National Security Advisor who has established his own set up, has got his secretariat…
A: They are not dealing with counter-terrorism…
Q: But they are doing some kind of analysis
A: They are not in charge of counter-terrorism
Q: I am not talking about intelligence gathering
A: Intelligence gathering has to be done by multiple agencies. There is defence intelligence, there is Intelligence Bureau, there is Research and Analysis Wing… there are intelligence wings of the state governments. All over the world intelligence is gathered by multiple sources and that is the correct approach.
Q: But the MAC supposed to be doing the same thing?
A: MAC only does the analysis of the intelligence but there are other functions for the NCTC which are not done by MAC because MAC is not equipped to do that. Once NCTC is formed, MAC will be subsumed in NCTC. It will be the core of the NCTC. The analytical part will be done by MAC but there is an earlier part and a later part to counter intelligence and counter terrorism. Once that set up is created, MAC will be subsumed in NCTC. MAC will not be a separate agency.
Q: And same will be the case with RAW?
A: No, RAW is our external intelligence agency. It will remain separate. NCTC is only conceived… my paper conceived it only as an agency to deal with counter terrorism, nothing else. Because of the heightened terrorist threat, NCTC’s mandate is only counter terrorism.
Q: But you will have this kind of arrangement with other agencies outside the country…
A: Every country has got an NCTC today
Q: You will have some coordination with all of them…
A: We have it today… between agency and agency, we have coordination. Our intelligence agency has coordination with other countries’ intelligence agencies. Once we have an NCTC for counter terrorism it will then liaise with the other counter terrorism agencies of the other countries.
Q: When it is so important to have it, then why it has not been taken up in the CCS as yet?
A: Well, I cannot answer that. All I can say is that it being studied by different members of the CCS. It has to come formally before the CCS.
Q: How long will it take?
A: I can’t say…
Q: But you have not given up yet?
A: Why should I give up, it is my proposal.
Q: You cannot blame it on coalition culture only the Congress ministers are there, nobody from outside is there…
A: There is no coalition issue here. There is no issue of Congress minister or coalition minister. This is a proposal which will be considered by the CCS…
Q: One agency is being headed by a private person…
A: That is Natgrid. It is an information system that brings all data bases into one grid. That is purely a service function. That is a technical service provider…Q: There are so many agencies in the government….
A: They are doing different functions…
Q: You have got census commissioner in the ministry then you have the Nandan Nilekani’s team…
A: It is for UID…
Q: They are also collecting information… they are not collecting waste
A: You are not reading their mandate each one has got a separate mandate…
Q: Can’t your census commissioner to do the same thing?
A: He can, he can do the same thing…
Q: Then why a separate agency…
A: But then you will have to add this organisation, the whole organisation, which you have created for UID to him. UID has anyway to be created and added to the RGI.
Q: But obviously the actual cost would be less …
A: No, no way. It will be the same thing. You will have to add a new organisation to the RGI. RGI’s hands are already full.
Q: Election Commission gives you cards, gives all the same information…
A: Please understand. The Election Commission card is only for the purpose of voting. It is an identity card for voting, we should not mix that up with gathering of biometric data and issuing up a unique Identity number which will then be loaded on various applications. I think they have very different functions and you must read the mandate before….
Q: I am not going on mandate. My question is the UID or any other identity card should be the responsibility of the interior ministry. What I understand is this is the practice all over the world …
A: It is not… See the issue of the card for all residents of India is the function of the home ministry. But the issue of the number is by a specialised agency. Number alone will be issued; card will be issued by the home ministry.
Q: So you are saying you can do it but you have not been given the mandate….
A: It is a specialised function. We, therefore, have created a specialised agency which can give the number. See more children will be born, more people will attain the age of majority. So this UID is a continuing function… numbers have to be given… people will die, the number has to be eliminated. So the UID exercise is a continuing exercise, it is not a one time exercise…
Q: Are you not disturbed with what has happened to the image of the government during last few months?
A: This is your perception of the image. Wait for May 13 and we will know what the people think of the government.
Q: Wait for May 13! You are talking of winning election obviously.
A: You have a perception of the image of the government, which I respect. But let us see what peoples’ perception is on the 13th of May.
Q: Let us use it as hypothetically again because you have challenged that May 13 is coming…
A: I want to know what the people think…
Q: If they reject you then will you admit that you were ….
A: Obviously, if the people vote against us then we would have to conclude that in the peoples’ esteem we have failed… in people’s estimate we’ve failed, we have to admit that with humility. But I am confident that on May 13th, results will show that the people do not share the perceptions which are run on the media most of the time. Media’s perception and the people’s perception are not necessarily the same.
Q: 13th May, you think, will explode that myth.
A: You are putting words in my mouth. What I am saying is media’s perception and people’s perceptions are not always the same.
Q: But what media says you always follow that closely.
A: We do not follow, we watch the media
Q: Today you reacted to the PAC report and the kind of institutional demolition is going on in this country…
A: Who demolished it? There is no PAC report. First of all there is terminological inexactitude. There was a draft report submitted by Mr MM Joshi in his individual capacity. In the PAC, 11 out of 21 members, rejected it. There is no PAC report.
Q: They also elected a new chairman?
A: No, I am told, that at 11 o’clock when PAC met, 11 members gave letters saying we reject this report.
Q: They elected a chairman, according to newspaper reports.
A: Please listen to me, don’t you want to follow the facts. At 11 o’clock they rejected it. Then the discussion continued. It resumed at 4 o’clock. At 4 o’clock, they said please put it to vote. This is what I am told. Mr Joshi stood up and walked out of the meeting. The remaining members said why are you walking out of the meeting? He said, no, I am going out and walked out. Therefore, they elected a person to preside over the meeting, not a PAC chairman, only to preside over the meeting and complete the process of lodging eleven rejection slips. There is no report of the PAC. It was a draft report given to the PAC which the PAC did not adopt. It becomes a PAC report only when the draft is adopted by the PAC either by consensus or by majority. Here, 11 out of 21 members have in writing rejected the draft.
Q. Home Ministry has been quite liberal in granting permission for telephone tapping which has led to the violation of individual privacy in some cases. How do you propose to prevent its misuse?
A. Such requests don’t come to me. They are dealt by the Home secretary. We are equally concerned about its misuse by unauthorised persons. I am all for protective privacy. The whole issue of phone tapping is being addressed by a Committee under the Cabinet secretary. Let us wait for its report.
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